Environment and Outdoors

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Virginia officials have ordered several waterways closed to shellfish harvesting because of concerns over contaminants that could have been stirred up by Hurricane Dorian.The Daily Press reports the emergency closure affecting oysters and clams on portions of the Lynnhaven River, the lower James River and Back River will begin Saturday and run for at least four days.Larry Hill is a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health. He says heavy rains and tidal surges can cause land contaminants to be washed into the water and then ingested by shellfish. Eating the shellfish can then be harmful to humans.Hill says the shellfish beds will be tested for contamination early next week to determine if harvesting can be reopened.

Photo: Appalachians Against Pipelines

From the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office:  On August 15, 2019, shortly after 7:00 AM, security personnel with Mountain Valley Pipeline contacted the Communications Center for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in reference to two protestors that were chained to a piece of equipment near Wades Gap Road in Callaway. The caller reported an additional 4-5 people standing in the roadway that were protesting. Deputies responded to the scene to verify that everyone was okay. The Virginia State Police responded to the scene as well. The protestors on the roadway were asked to leave and obtain a demonstration permit. These protestors left the scene without incident.

The protestors chained to the equipment appeared fatigued so deputies called in the Franklin County Department of Public Safety to assess the subjects for any medical issues. VSP responded to the scene with a specialized team trained to remove protestors from the equipment safely. The protestors were removed from the equipment without incident. Both protestors have been arrested and charged with trespassing and tampering with a vehicle. 27-year-old Melissa M. Dubois of Worcester, MA was released on a $1,500.00 bond, and 19-year-old Amory L. Zhou-Kourvo of Ann Arbor, MI  is currently being held without bond.

A requiem for the Roanoke Logperch – some local environmentalists held a mock memorial service for the endangered species in Salem near the Roanoke River today. The DEQ recently issued a stop-work order for a two-mile stretch of MVP construction in Montgomery County after it determined adequate erosion control measures were not in place. Rachel Abshire with the group Sunrise Roanoke says excess silt from Mountain Valley Pipeline construction runoff further imperils the logperch.

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Clark Palmer photo

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s stop-work order last Friday on a two-mile stretch of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Montgomery County isn’t enough for opponents of the project and they talked about it at the Roanoke City Main Library branch early this afternoon. Russell Chisholm is with several local environmental groups; he is also a lead coordinator for the Mountain Valley Watch, which has been monitoring construction crews for issues like related soil erosion. MVP maintains they strive for best practices during pipeline construction.

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A U.S. appeals court on Friday tossed out a key permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that deals with the project’s effects on threatened or endangered species, saying a federal agency had apparently “lost sight of its mandate.”

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had made decisions that were “arbitrary and capricious” in its authorization for the pipeline.

“In fast-tracking its decisions, the agency appears to have lost sight of its mandate under the (Endangered Species Act): ‘to protect and conserve endangered and threatened species and their habitats,’” the court wrote.

The decision is the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the 600-mile (965-kilometer) pipeline, the construction of which has been on hold since December. The project designed to carry natural gas from West Virginia into Virginia and North Carolina is years behind schedule, and its total cost has increased by about $2 billion.

The appeal dealt with four species: the rusty patched bumble bee; the clubshell, a mussel; the Indiana bat; and the Madison Cave isopod, a crustacean.

Last year, the court vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s incidental take statement, which usually authorizes a project to harm or kill no more than a limited number of threatened or endangered species.

Soon after, the agency revised its work and issued a new one, which environmental groups challenged.

The court wrote that it could not ignore that it took the agency “a mere 19 days” to issue the new incidental take statement and related biological opinion after the court’s first decision.

“In its rush to help this pipeline company, the agency failed to protect species on the brink of extinction – its most important duty. This pipeline would blast through some of the last populations of these rare animals,” said Patrick Hunter, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented the environmental groups that sued.

A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency is reviewing the decision.

A spokesman for lead developer Dominion Energy said the company expects the Fish and Wildlife Service and federal regulators who oversee interstate natural gas pipelines will be able to immediately begin working to resolve the issues.

“Once the new Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement are issued, we will seek the necessary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to resume construction. We’re confident we remain on track to complete the project by late 2021,” spokesman Aaron Ruby wrote in an email.

Dominion, which is a partner in the pipeline along with Duke Energy and Southern Co., says the project will lower energy costs and boost economic development, both through its construction and by increasing the availability of natural gas.

Opponents say the project will cause environmental harm and question the need for a massive natural gas pipeline at a time when they say climate change makes it imperative to invest in renewable energy.