Builders of Mountain Valley Pipeline may have found a way to cross the Appalachian Trail, but it will delay project completion until mid-next year and increase its cost to as much as $ 5 billion.
The information was made on Monday for an filing by the US Securities and Exchange Commission by EQM Midstream, the leading partner in the joint venture.
Previously, Mountain Valley had said it would spend 4.6 billion. dollars and have the natural gas pipeline completed by the end of this year.
The latest plan involves a proposed land swap, where the US Department of Home Affairs would allow the company to keep its current crossing of the Appalachian Trail ̵
Giving the land to the government would "protect one of the last seams of the track that is currently not under federal ownership or control," said the Mountain Valley. As part of the deal, the company would be allowed to continue with plans to tunnel under the path to bury its 42-inch diameter pipe at mountain top.
The tedious plan was questioned in December when a federal court of appeal decided that the forest service had illegally allowed a similar project, the Atlantic coastal pipeline, to cross the scenic path further east into the George Washington National Forest.
In that case, the 4th US Criminal Court ruled the Forest Service lacked the power to give a right to the path of the pipeline to cross the more than 2,100 mile track administered by the National Park Service.
Although Mountain Valley was not named in that case, legal experts said,
But if the land swap is approved, the relevant federal agencies will give the MVP venture a relief and justice "to cross the track at the originally planned site approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017, wrote the EQM in the SEC filing.
"This exchange would effectively privatize the MVP's right-hand side crossing path, potentially avoiding the legal danger of crossing the track federal country ", created by the 4th Circuit's judgment in the Atlantic Coast case, according to a report by Height Capital Markets, an investment banking firm that has followed the project.
SEC filing does not identify private countries Mountain Valley hopes to switch to track crossing, except to say that they are "crossed off and would benefit" the Appalachian Trail.
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for joint venture building of the pipeline, the Mountain Valley recently purchased a 42 acre package of land in Giles County, as the company assessed alternative solutions for crossing the track.
"Given the nature of the proposed exchange submission, the MVP will not identify o which packages at this time, which will be part of the land exchange beyond the property in Giles County, Virginia," Cox wrote in an email.
Land records show that in March, Mountain Valley purchased three parcels of land on Clendennin Road and Pocahontas Road, a woodland gravel road, which the Appalachian Trail follows shortly before heading Peters Mountain.
The company paid $ 460,000 for the property, which was valued at $ 188,000 according to court records. Efforts to reach sellers failed, and Cox did not say whether this property is part of the swap program.
The property is not far from places on Pocahontas Road, where two pipelines demonstrated last year. Pocahontas Road is a Mountain Valley construction access road that leads to the top of Peters Mountain, where two other protesters spent several months in tree blocking woodcutting at the site of the Appalachian Trail crossing.
All the protesters have since left or been removed by the police.
On Monday, Andrew Downs, a roanok regional regional director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said he did not know enough about the proposed exchange to comment in detail on whether it would be a fair trade.
But in general he said: "We are still against the project and I do not expect a package of land to change it."
The trail's ridgetop route along Peters Mountain is "one of the most special AT experiences in both Virginia and West Virginia," he said. "It is one of the most beautiful places in the Commonwealth."
The change of land has to be approved by several federal agencies, which is one of the reasons why Mountain Valley officially became the SEC's latest delay – predicted for some time by two partners in the project and by High Capital Markets.
Mountain Valley has hit a number of issues since its inception in February 2018 on a 303-mile pipeline that will run from Northwest Virginia through Southwest Virginia and connect with an older pipeline in Chatham.
Permits for the pipeline to cross more than 1,000 streams and wetlands were either thrown out or suspended following a legal challenge from environmental groups. Mountain Valley says it's working on getting new permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
At the same time, the Mountain Valley must regain forest service approval for the pipe to cross about 3.5 miles of the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County, West Virginia and Giles and Montgomery County.
In a case not directly referring to the Appalachian Trail, in July last year, the 4th Circuit decided that measures to combat erosion and sedimentation in the forest were inadequate.
The Mountain Valley is working with several agencies to "solve and solve the few remaining licensing issues" to be solved to get the project done by mid-2020, Cox said.