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Forest Service concerned about proposed pipeline through forests in West Virginia, Virginia

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RICHMOND, Virginia — The U.S. Forest Service has raised hundreds of concerns about a proposed natural gas pipeline that would carve a 30-mile swath through national forests in Virginia and West Virginia.

The written comments to federal regulators question why the proposed route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has to go through the George Washington and Monongahela national forests and raises similar worries cited by residents along the path of the 550-mile energy project.

The 335 questions, comments and corrections were submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late July by H. Thomas Speaks Jr., forest supervisor. The Forest Service already has given the builders of the proposed pipeline the green light to survey the forests.

The pipeline is proposed by Dominion Resources Inc., Duke Energy and two energy partners. It would carry natural gas from Marcellus shale drilling in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Southeast. It would run from Harrison County, West Virginia, southeast to Greensville County, Virginia, and into North Carolina.

The $5 billion pipeline is intended to deliver cleaner burning natural gas to the Southeast as utilities move away from coal-burning power plants amid tighter federal rules on pollution that contributes to climate change.

The Forest Service filing was in response to a draft report filed in May by Dominion. Forest surveys of wetlands and wildlife, among other resources, are nearing completion, said Frank Mack, a spokesman for Dominion Transmission, a subsidiary that would build the pipeline.

"Much of what we have completed since May will address many of the comments the National Forest Service sent to the FERC, and which we plan to make public when we file our Resource Reports with our application to the FERC later this summer," Mack wrote in an email.

The Forest Service said Speaks' comments are intended to guide Dominion as it develops its final report with the agency on the national forest routes. The Forest Service will make the final decision whether the pipeline is a "suitable use" for the national forests, said Jennifer Adams, special project coordinator for the Forest Service.

Adams said a similar report was filed by the Forest Service on another interstate pipeline project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, but those comments have not been released. The Mountain Valley project would go through a section of the Jefferson National Forest.

The 300-mile pipeline is a joint venture between EQT Corp. and NextEra Energy Inc. It would run from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to another pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

On the Atlantic Pipeline, one Forest Service comment questions the "necessity to cross" forestlands in building the pipeline. Speaks wrote that the Forest Service policy does not authorize the use of U.S. forests "solely because it affords the applicant a lower cost or less restrictive location when compared to non-NFS lands."

The Forest Service filing also questions whether hazardous materials such as blasting materials would be stored on forestland, the impact on streams and fish, and the restoration of habitat after the pipeline is built, among others.

While politically popular, the proposed pipeline has found opposition among its planned route by residents who object to a pipeline dissecting their land or on environmental grounds. The pipeline has spawned at least two groups opposed to its construction and several lawsuits.


Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.


Online:

Atlantic Coast Pipeline: https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/natural-gas/atlantic-coast-pipeline

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