By: Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury
October 21, 2022
Mountain Valley Pipeline has decided to withdraw eminent domain actions against land in North Carolina the company sought for its Southgate extension, a 75-mile offshoot of the main pipeline that would carry gas from Pittsylvania south to Rockingham and Alamance counties.
“As the timing, design, and scope of this project continue to be evaluated, MVP has elected to dismiss this action, believing that to be the appropriate course of action for the time being and a demonstration of its desire to work cooperatively and in good faith with landowners and communities along the pipeline’s route,” said the motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
But the company asked for the dismissal without prejudice, which would allow it to pursue eminent domain actions against the properties again.
Mountain Valley “has not abandoned this project,” the pipeline wrote.
Shawn Day, a spokesperson for the MVP Southgate project, reiterated the motion’s language, adding, “Mountain Valley remains committed to the MVP Southgate project, which is needed to help North Carolina achieve its lower-carbon energy goals and meet current and future residential and commercial demand for natural gas in the region.”
“Proceedings currently remain under way with respect to a small number of tracts” along the proposed Southgate route in Virginia, Day added.
A condition of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the Southgate project in 2020 was that construction of the extension would not begin until the company received the required federal permits for the mainline system and the Director of the Office of Energy Projects, or its designee, lifted a stop-work order and authorized the project.
The pipeline regained life in August after FERC extended its October 2022 completion deadline by four years. Regulators said their decision was an administrative one and that the proceedings were not the proper time to revisit the project’s approval.
At that time, a company spokesperson said the company remains committed to securing federal and state permits to bring the project into service in the second half of 2023. Mountain Valley has said the main line is 94% complete, although some opponents dispute the company’s numbers.
However, Mountain Valley still lacks necessary permits to complete the pipeline. An effort by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, to force approval and completion of the project through federal legislation on permitting reform stalled this fall.
The Southgate extension has also run into problems. In 2021, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board denied an air permit for a proposed compressor station in Pittsylvania that was crucial to ensure gas could flow from Virginia into North Carolina.
The denial triggered General Assembly legislation transferring permitting authority from the citizen air board to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
North Carolina had also previously denied Southgate a required water permit, citing “unnecessary and avoidable impacts to surface waters and riparian buffers.”
Environmental activists on Friday celebrated Mountain Valley’s voluntary dismissal of its eminent domain actions.
“Today we can exhale. We still have a long way to go, but the road gets shorter,” said Crystal Cavalier Keck, co-founder of 7 Directions of Service, an indigenous people’s activist group, in a statement. “This decision is more proof that the MVP is destined for defeat.”