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Court filing seeks to prevent blasting for pipeline on Bent Mountain

Court filing seeks to prevent blasting for pipeline on Bent Mountain


The owners of a Bent Mountain property being crossed by the Mountain Valley Pipeline are asking a federal judge to stop the blasting of bedrock, saying it could “explode the headwaters of Bottom Creek.”

A motion seeking a temporary injunction was filed Wednesday by an attorney for the Terry family.

Construction crews building the natural gas pipeline recently began boring holes through earth and rock to prepare for blasting to clear a trench for the buried 42-inch diameter pipe.

John Coles Terry III has confirmed that “half of the borings are half-full with water from the shallow aquifer serving as the headwaters of Bottom Creek — a water body protected by regulation,” according to the motion filed in Roanoke’s federal court.

Blasting could contaminate Terry’s well water and that of others downstream, the motion states.

Officials with Mountain Valley and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality say they have not seen any evidence of the potential harm described in the motion and in a recent letter from Terry to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We believe the potential for impact to the aquifer or water supplies is low but will continue to monitor the area,” DEQ spokeswoman Ann Regn wrote in an email.

Mountain Valley said that drilling holes to a depth of less than 15 feet for blasting is a common construction practice, and that given the terrain of Bent Mountain is not unusual to encounter water.

“There is no evidence that an aquifer has been penetrated,” company spokeswoman Natalie Cox wrote in a statement. “We remain confident that once the VDEQ inspectors assess the situation and complete their investigation, they will conclude there is no merit to these latest claims.”

Joe Sherman, the Norfolk attorney who filed the motion, is asking Judge Elizabeth Dillon to prevent blasting while the Terrys seek a stay from FERC. The commission is the lead agency overseeing construction of the 303-mile pipeline that is passing through the New River and Roanoke valleys.

A hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday, at which time Dillon will take up the issue of whether she has jurisdiction to hear the case.

In a response filed in federal court Wednesday, Mountain Valley argued that construction activities fall under the exclusive authority of FERC, which has already approved work on the pipeline through the Terry property.

While Mountain Valley has resumed most construction on the $6.2 billion project, it still lacks permits to cross steams and wetlands.

Terry wrote in his letter to the commission that, based on his experience in the construction industry and his degree in civil engineering, he believes that work should be stopped until an inspection is conducted by a qualified hydrologist.

“I am very concerned that if drilling continues, it could cause damage to my well which is my family’s sole source of drinking water,” the letter stated. “This drilling and blasting is taking place directly behind my house which is within an approximate distance of less than 500 feet.”

FERC had not responded on its online docket by late Wednesday afternoon.

Terry said some blasting was done on the land earlier this week. “Blasting has been approved in this location and will be performed as conditions allow,” Cox’s email stated.

The company is following its plan of using explosives to remove rock, according to DEQ, and there have been no recent problems with erosion and sedimentation at the site.

Terry is the husband of Theresa “Red” Terry and the father of Minor Terry. In 2018, the mother and daughter spent more than a month in tree stands on their land in an effort to prevent Mountain Valley from cutting trees. They came down under orders from Dillon.

Timber crews felled the trees a short time later. But little more was done on the land after that as Mountain Valley fell behind schedule on a project that has faced repeated legal challenges and problems controlling muddy runoff.

This spring, construction crews began digging trenches and laying the pipe in Giles and Roanoke counties. Mountain Valley says it expects to finish the pipeline next summer.

The Terrys also fought Mountain Valley’s use of eminent domain to take their land, which has been in the family for seven generations. Dillon gave the company immediate possession of an easement on which to build the pipeline, but the question of how much the Terrys should be paid has yet to be decided by a jury.

“This is my land. MVP does not own it,” Terry wrote in his letter to FERC.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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