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Criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline ends with no charges
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Criminal investigation of Mountain Valley Pipeline ends with no charges

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A two-year criminal investigation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline has concluded with no charges filed.

In a report filed Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the lead partner in the project said it was informed last month that a federal investigation was completed, “without an adverse determination to the MVP joint venture.”

Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox said it was the company’s understanding that there was no finding of wrongdoing, and that no criminal or civil action would be taken.

The case began more than two years ago with a complaint by Preserve Bent Mountain, a Roanoke County group that had been fighting the natural gas pipeline for years.

Representatives for the group presented a large amount of evidence to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Roanoke, asking it to investigate possible violations of the Clean Water Act and other federal laws.

While Mountain Valley has repeatedly run afoul of administrative regulations meant to keep muddy runoff from contaminating nearby streams and rivers, a criminal charge would have carried a higher burden of proof.

Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment Tuesday.

Although federal prosecutors rarely confirm that an investigation is in progress, Mountain Valley was required to inform investors, through its SEC filings, of any potential risk to the company’s financial well-being.

The first disclosure was made in a February 2019 filing by Equitrans Midstream Corp., the lead partner in a joint venture of five energy companies building a pipeline that will cross Bent Mountain on its 303-mile path from northern West Virginia to connect with an existing pipeline in Pittsylvania County.

Equitrans had received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office the month before, informing the company that it and the Environmental Protection Agency were looking into possible criminal and civil violations related to pipeline construction, the filing said.

At the time Preserve Bent Mountain made its report, a permit allowing Mountain Valley to trench through streams and wetlands had been suspended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Equitrans reported that it had received a grand jury subpoena and was ordered by federal prosecutors to preserve any relevant documents. Regular updates to the SEC on the case contained no new information until Tuesday.

Tom Bondurant, a Roanoke attorney who represented Preserve Bent Mountain, declined to comment.

Legal challenges of permits issued to Mountain Valley have slowed construction, and Equitrans announced in a conference call Tuesday that completion of the buried pipeline has been delayed again, until summer of 2022.

The delay means that areas of construction will again remain open to the elements during the winter months, when erosion and sediment control is the most challenging.

“We’ve been on many landowners’ properties for far too long,” Equitrans chairman and CEO Thomas Karam said during the call. Finishing the remaining work on the project, he said, “is the most environmentally sound thing we can do at this point.”

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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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