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Atlantic Coast halts W.Va. water-crossing work to allow for plan review

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Atlantic Coast halts W.Va. water-crossing work to allow for plan review

Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC requested and secured a temporary suspension of a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that covers stream and river crossings in West Virginia. The pipeline plans to use the suspension to review its water-crossing construction plans with the federal agency.

The move halts work on water crossings in West Virginia but does not affect other construction that is underway in West Virginia and North Carolina, according to the project's lead sponsor, Dominion Energy Inc. At issue is whether Atlantic Coast can comply with a condition in its permit that all crossings must be completed in a 72-hour time frame.

Atlantic Coast and the Mountain Valley pipeline are part of a batch of projects totaling 6.5 Bcf/d of capacity and targeting in-service dates between now and the end of 2019 that would take Appalachian supply to downstream markets in the mid-Atlantic region. The developer has been fending off a stay request from environmental groups that succeeded in a case involving Mountain Valley in convincing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to pause Corps authorizations under a similar permit, known as Nationwide 12, in West Virginia.

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said Atlantic Coast is committed to complying with the timing requirement, but "out of an abundance of caution, we have requested a temporary suspension of our permit so the Corps can thoroughly review our crossings and ensure that we are in compliance with the 72-hour requirement." Ruby did not expect any significant delays in the project, which aims to wrap up construction by the end of 2019.

The Corps granted the temporary suspension request July 27 until it could review additional information Atlantic Coast will supply to demonstrate compliance. A court stay, as sought by the Sierra Club, could have more significant timing implications for the project than the voluntary suspension. A stay could put some water-crossing work on hold while underlying litigation plays out.

In a July 20 motion for a stay by the 4th Circuit, the Sierra Club said the legal questions are identical to those that caused the court to stay Corps verifications of stream crossings for Mountain Valley in southern West Virginia. Atlantic Coast is ineligible for the Nationwide Permit 12 because the record shows its Greenbrier River crossing cannot satisfy the condition in West Virginia for limited duration of in-stream construction, the Sierra Club said.

Sierra Club attorney Aaron Isherwood said July 30 that the environmental group hopes the temporary work stoppage becomes permanent. The Sierra Club motion for the Atlantic Coast stay is still pending.

In a court filing July 27, Atlantic Coast said the petitioners are wrong in their allegation that Atlantic Coast cannot comply with the 72-hour crossing. "Petitioners claim that because Mountain Valley Pipeline cannot meet the condition with respect to four unrelated crossings in West Virginia, this court should simply assume that Atlantic cannot either," the filing said. "Petitioners ignore the fact that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and MVP are wholly separate projects with different owners, developers and crossings, different routes."

Full construction of the 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast pipeline project had been underway in West Virginia for several months, and the project recently received the go-ahead from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin full construction in North Carolina. In Virginia, full construction awaits state approval of erosion- and sediment-control plans.

Maya Weber is a reporter for S&P Global Platts, which, like S&P Global Market Intelligence, is owned by S&P Global Inc.