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Two days after contentious court hearing, Dominion asks FERC for more time to cut trees for pipeline

File photo by Lisa Sorg

The trees had to be cut down immediately. In fact, it should have been done yesterday. There was no wiggle room, attorneys for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline argued to a federal judge on Wednesday, and delays would cause “irreparable harm” to the utilities.

But now Dominion and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, have decided that, well, maybe the issue isn’t so urgent after all.

According to documents filed today, ACP, LLC has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a deadline extension to cut trees that are on private property in the path of the pipeline. This is a major about-face, because earlier this week, ACP, LLC had taken several landowners to court, asking a federal judge to force them to provide access to their property for tree-cutting.

The landowners have so far refused to allow ACP, LLC contractors onto their land; nor are they willing to negotiate with the utilities on fair compensation for the land that will be taken by eminent domain.

The harvesting, ACP lawyers argued, had to be complete by March 31; otherwise, the utilities would have to wait until November to comply with a migratory bird plan they had submitted to FERC and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the hearing, as Policy Watch reported yesterday, landowners’ lawyers rebutted with several counter-arguments.

One, for several years, ACP, LLC had hired unlicensed surveyors and land agents to do preliminary work — work that had to be redone by certified contractors, argued Catherine W. Cralle-Jones, attorney for landowner Marvin Winstead.

And in at least one case, more than six months passed between ACP contractors’ initial contacts with landowner Ronald Locke, and any follow up.  “There is no emergency,” argued Charles Lollar, attorney for Locke.

Then the landowners’ attorneys asked an obvious question: Had ACP asked FERC or USFWS for a deadline extension?

No, ACP attorney Richard D. Holzheimer, Jr. replied, they hadn’t asked.

“Those trees will be felled now or in November,” Holzheimer rebutted. “The landowners want to delay this to harm us.”

If FERC agrees, the trees on the disputed land will stand until at least November. As for the harm to the company, it appears not to be so irreparable after all.

 

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