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City council wants pipeline developers on hook for any sedimentation of Roanoke River

City council wants pipeline developers on hook for any sedimentation of Roanoke River

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The Roanoke City Council is calling on the state to require developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to either completely control sediment the project causes in the Roanoke River or pay for cleaning it up — at a potential cost of $36 million or more.

The council passed a resolution Thursday to be sent to the governor, the General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

“Essentially, whoever dirties the water needs to clean it up,” Councilman Ray Ferris said.

The route of the 303-mile, $3.5 billion, 42-inch diameter pipeline from West Virginia to Chatham doesn’t pass through the city. However, it crosses the Roanoke River and its tributaries upstream from the city more than 100 times, according to the resolution. The river and those tributaries are already listed as “impaired” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency due to excessive sediment, and the city is in the midst of spending millions of dollars on stormwater improvements to reduce sediment and other pollution to comply with demands from the EPA.

A consultant for MVP estimated that the pipeline project would increase sediment in the river by 2 percent — or about 1,039 more tons per year — which the city calls a conservative estimate. But even that amount would add $36 million in costs to an existing $78 million the city believes it will have to spend to comply with EPA requirements.

City Stormwater Utility Director Dwayne D’Ardenne said DEQ has assured the city that best management practices for controlling sediment will be followed on the project, but D’Ardenne told the council those practices are designed for commercial and residential projects — not a pipeline that follows a denuded, 125-foot-wide path up and down steep mountainsides.

He and other city leaders are concerned state and federal regulators will hold the city responsible for additional sediment when it isn’t their fault.

The resolution calls on the state to require MVP to eliminate any increase in sedimentation and develop “standards of financial responsibility and accountability” for the developers, including bonding or other security to cover costs of mitigating sediment increases from the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline.

“We’re essentially saying, ‘Leave the river as you found it,’” Ferris said.

While pipeline opponents have called on the city to outright oppose the pipeline, Ferris said any up or down decision on the project will happen at a level of government well above the city, and the city sees its best role as helping protect water quality in the region should the pipeline be built.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch said the potential power of what the city is asking for is considerable.

“If you cannot accept these responsibilities, or cannot afford these responsibilities, then you shouldn’t be building the pipeline,” he said.

Sedimentation is a concern cited by pipeline opponents and local governments all along the MVP route.

DEQ has offered counties along the routes of both pipelines a proposed Memorandum of Agreement that would provide an opportunity, “as practicable,” for local erosion and sediment and stormwater officials to accompany DEQ on visits to the pipeline construction sites.

The proposed memorandum has stirred controversy among pipeline opponents. Many contend signing the agreement would be premature before FERC approval of the projects and prior to State Water Control Board decisions about certification. They also say signing the agreement now could be misinterpreted by the board as an endorsement by the counties for the pipeline.

Roanoke County decided this week, after a heated meeting Monday of the county’s Pipeline Advisory Committee, to defer action on the memorandum until after FERC and the water control board make decisions about the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

D’Ardenne, Roanoke’s stormwater utility manager, told the council Thursday that DEQ said the city has no standing to participate in a memorandum of agreement because the pipeline doesn’t cross the city.

Tuesday, however, DEQ announced that the State Water Control Board will hold meetings in December to weigh agency recommendations about Clean Water Act 401 water quality certification for both the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

City officials expect to be heard at the meetings regarding MVP on Dec. 6 and 7.

Staff writer Duncan Adams contributed to this report.

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