It’s one thing for rain to wash mud and sediment away from where the Mountain Valley Pipeline is being built; that’s happened many times.
But when part of the pipe gets swept away, that’s another story.
It happened Thursday on Dale Angle’s cornfield in Franklin County. And Angle — who has been complaining for months about runoff from construction damaging his land — says he’s not ready to give Mountain Valley its pipe back.
“They called this morning wanting me to sign a permission slip” that would allow company workers onto his property to retrieve two 80-foot sections of steel pipe that floated away, Angle said Friday.
“I said I couldn’t do it right now. They’ve done destroyed enough of my property. I’m not going to let them do it again.”
In recent weeks, Mountain Valley has been digging trenches to bury a 42-inch diameter pipe that will transport natural gas at high pressure through Angle’s 160-acre farm on its way from West Virginia to a connecting pipeline in Pittsylvania County.
Sections of the pipe were laid along the construction right of way and left until they could be lowered into the ground.
Two such sections were in a low-lying area, next to where Little Creek enters the Blackwater River, when Thursday’s torrential rains began. Angle, who says the bottom land is often completely covered by flood waters, was not surprised by what happened next.
One section was washed about 60 feet from its spot, he said. The other one floated nearly 1,000 feet before lodging against some trees near the banks of the Blackwater.
Both had clearly crossed a boundary line drawn earlier this year when Mountain Valley used its legal power of eminent domain to obtain an easement through Angle’s land, despite his fervent opposition.
Although construction crews can do as they please along established rights of way and access roads, they must obtain permission before venturing onto adjacent private property.
That put Angle in power when he’s often felt powerless.
“I feel like I don’t have a say,” he said during an interview earlier in the week, before the flooding began. “This pipeline will never benefit me one bit, yet they’re taking my land.”
When pipeline officials asked to enter his land, Angle said he would think about it over the next few days.
No doubt, he’ll also think about the times he has complained to Mountain Valley and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality about muddy water that flowed from construction sites onto his land.
“They talk about soil and sediment and erosion control. All they do is dump it on the landowner,” Angle said. “They haven’t done any controlling.”
In an emailed statement, a Mountain Valley spokeswoman said the recent downpours from the former Hurricane Michael added to the “already unprecedented amount of rain” since construction work began in the spring.
“The MVP team is currently evaluating and investigating the right-of-way for any damage, and thus far the erosion and sediment controls appear to have remained intact and working as planned,” Natalie Cox wrote.
However, environmental regulators in Virginia and West Virginia have issued more than a dozen notices of violation against Mountain Valley, informing the company that its systems to curb runoff have failed on multiple occasions along the pipeline’s 303-mile path.
A citizen watchdog group, Mountain Valley Watch, other organizations and individuals have logged many more complaints.
Asked how Mountain Valley might go about reclaiming its two lost pieces of pipe, Cox provided few details.
“As always,” she wrote, “the MVP team will work directly with landowners to address any individual or specific situations.”