Environmental Study Shows Potential Risk from Pipeline Construction

By Bob Stuart, News Virginian

WAYNESBORO — A study requested by an Augusta County supervisor identifies potential risks of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction to county groundwater and surface water resources, and also measures the millions of gallons of water flowing from the county annually to adjacent counties.

Tracy Pyles said Tuesday that he wants the study to be presented later this year to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when FERC visits Augusta County. FERC is the federal licensing agency for the natural gas pipeline, which would extend 554 miles from West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina when constructed.

The Sullivan International Group, an environmental firm, performed the study. The 35-page report estimates that between 174 million gallons and more than 273 million gallons are contributed to counties adjacent to Augusta annually through groundwater and stream flow.

The company identified possible risks to Augusta County’s water quality, water yield and underlying bedrock and Karst formations from the pipeline.

In regards to water quality, the study says that blasting activities necessary for pipeline construction could be a risk to groundwater across the county. “The potential for increased turbidity and susceptibility to chemicals associated with blasting represents a risk to groundwater across Augusta County,” the report said.

Water yield also could be impacted. The report also says that vibrations caused by blasting “have the potential to affect fragile bedrock fracture systems within the bedrock aquifer underlying Augusta County, which could result in diminished well yields.”

According to a resource report Dominion Resources filed with FERC in December, the utility would use conventional excavation first, but would use blasting when necessary, said Jim Norvelle, a Dominion spokesman.

Norvelle said the type of blasting used would be a “low charge” type, providing just enough of a charge to break up bedrock or boulders to allow excavating by mechanical means.

The exact wording in Dominion’s report to FERC is that when blasting is required “care will be taken to avoid damage to underground structures, cables, conduits and pipelines, as well as underground watercourses or springs.”

The Sullivan Group identifies 27 Augusta County sinkholes within the 500-foot buffer zone of the pipeline. The study says those buffers “are deemed important” because sinkholes can form in clusters, and because sinkholes have the potential “to rapidly transmit water and potential from the surface to the underlying bedrock aquifer.”

Twelve Augusta County streams also would be crossed by the pipeline, and four flood protection dams — Branch Dam, Robinson Hollow, Happy Hollow and Waynesboro Nurseries — are within 1.25 miles of the pipeline.

Among the report’s recommendations are that Augusta County have groundwater protection plans in place during pipeline construction, and ways of monitoring the impact. The study also suggests mitigation planning to address impacts.

Pyles said the study offers the chance to show FERC more than a litany of citizen complaints about the pipeline’s location.

“Our point is to demonstrate our uniqueness and how much greater our water resources are,” he said.

Pyles said the study shows the risks of the pipeline, and the range. “It is beyond Augusta County,” he said. “We know pipelines burst whether by fault of man, earthquake or by flooding.”

The supervisor said other questions are raised by the study such as should contamination occur, “who will fix this, who will manage this? Will FERC be there for us, will the federal government? We are ultimately responsible.”

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