Mountain Valley Pipeline voluntarily suspends construction that could harm endangered species

Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project led a tour of the denuded, muddy construction site last month at Four Corners Farm in Franklin County. (Mason Adams/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC has voluntarily suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species, according to a letter the company submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Thursday.

The developer of the controversial pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia wrote that it had undertaken the suspension in response to a letter submitted by the Sierra Club to the Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this week asking that the agency reverse its permit for the project.

The Sierra Club had asked that the Fish and Wildlife Service respond to its request no later than Aug. 15. At the same time the conservation group and six other environmental organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to review the permit.

The Fourth Circuit previously vacated a key permit allowing the Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross U.S. Forest Service land and has also struck down permits related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

In the letter outlining the terms of the voluntary suspension, MVP stated that it would avoid cutting down certain trees and shrubs that are considered “suitable habitat” for the Indiana bat or are within 150 feet of maternity roost trees and three caves used by northern long-eared bats.

The company also pledged to avoid tree clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching and land- or inland stream-disturbing activities associated with stream crossings where the Roanoke logperch, a small freshwater fish, or the candy darter, a more diminutive freshwater fish known for its bright hues, have been found or are thought to be.

“Implementing these conservative steps ensures complete avoidance of both listed species take and destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat areas,” MVP wrote.

A call to MVP was not immediately returned.

In response to the announcement, Sierra Club senior campaign representative Joan Walker released a statement saying, “We told you so. There’s no way to build this dirty, dangerous project in any manner that wouldn’t directly threaten endangered species or our clean air and water. MVP should just face reality and make this voluntary suspension permanent.”

Peter Anderson, Virginia Program Manager for Appalachian Voices, one of the groups petitioning the Fourth Circuit to review the project’s permit, accused MVP of “trying to paper over” the knowledge “that construction poses dire threats to these species and their habitats.”

“The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should put a real stop to construction while these issues are pending,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a stop-work instruction for two miles of the pipeline in Montgomery County after an inspection found that the company hasn’t been adequately controlling erosion. MVP had previously been sued by DEQ and the Virginia Attorney General’s Office for failing to control sediment and stormwater runoff in five counties.

DEQ communications manager Ann Regn confirmed Thursday that the department’s stop-work instruction had not yet been lifted and said that state inspectors had been at the site Wednesday and Thursday.