Work crews have been given permission to stabilize sections of the unfinished Mountain Valley Pipeline that have been in the Jefferson National Forest for four years.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday approved Mountain Valley’s proposal, which will use helicopters to fly into new wooden structures, known as rigging, on which heavy pipe segments have been positioned.
As the completion of the pipeline was delayed, part of the encasement deteriorated, allowing at least two sections of pipe to slip from their supports and slide a short distance down the steep slopes of Brush and Sinking Mountains Creek.
The teams will walk through the forest and reinforce the pipe supports without using heavy machinery. The stabilization plan was designed to prevent further erosion along a 125-foot-wide right-of-way that has been cleared for natural gas infrastructure.
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In a press release Wednesday, the US Forest Service said people near the pipeline route through public forests in Giles and Montgomery counties may soon notice increased activity in the area.
The work is expected to take several days, according to the Forest Service, and the pipeline corridor remains closed to the general public.
In addition to reinforcing the pipe’s enclosure, the stabilization plan focuses “on protecting soil and water resources and includes monitoring conditions, securing pipe sections to the surface, ensuring that measures erosion control are functional or improved, basic land preparation and seeding,” according to the Forest Service, which recommended the proposal.
In 2018, just months after construction began on the $6.6 billion project, a federal appeals court denied a permit for the pipeline’s 3.5-mile route through the national forest, which includes also a small section of Monroe County, West Virginia.
This license and others were reissued, only to be overturned a second time by the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals. The court cited environmental concerns, including muddy runoff from construction sites along the pipeline’s 303-mile path, which takes it north of Blacksburg and south of Roanoke.
Construction is currently stalled – except for erosion and sediment control work – while Mountain Valley seeks a new round of permits.
In comments submitted to FERC, some opponents of the pipeline have raised concerns about the pipe’s integrity, saying its protective coating has been weakened by years of exposure to sunlight and other elements.
Mountain Valley says it checks every segment of the 42-inch-diameter pipe for defects before it’s buried in a trench, and so far all sections have met specifications.
About 84% of the pipe was lowered into trenches and covered with soil, according to the company. FERC recently extended the deadline for the project to be completed until 2026, but Mountain Valley says it hopes to obtain new approvals to complete the work and bring the pipeline into service by the end of next year.