Conflict presented with floodplain

Published 3:14 pm Thursday, December 20, 2018

Members of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, following a public hearing and recommendation from the county administrator, voted to table a proposed variance for the county’s floodplain route proposed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) Tuesday.

The ACP is seeking variance from the Buckingham County Floodplain Ordinance to construct in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identified floodplains.

“ACP has identified six locations that include 2 miles of pipeline construction and 1.2 miles of access roads in floodplains of the James River, North River, Slate River, Willis River, and Little Willis River,” the meeting board packet cited.

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The pipeline would cross approximately 27 miles in Buckingham County.

County Administrator Rebecca Carter introduced the proposal Tuesday after it was announced by board Chairman Danny Allen that County Planning and Zoning Administrator Rebecca Cobb had a potential conflict of interest.

When asked about the conflict Wednesday, Carter said that Cobb notified the county attorney that her husband accepted a full-time job with the ACP Compressor Station on Nov. 28.

“A special meeting of the Board of Sups. was held on Friday, Nov. 30, to discuss the possible conflicts of interest since Mrs. Cobb has been managing the zoning issues for the ACP and the special use permit for the compressor station,” Carter said. “The board decided that it is in the best interest of the county that Mrs. Cobb not work with any ACP projects.”

Carter said the board did not express any opinion concerning Cobb’s husband’s job, but did express concern about the possible conflict in relation to Rebecca Cobb’s position with the county and analyzing ACP projects.

“The board and planning commission has worked to remain transparent (with) all ACP issues and the board felt this could be perceived  as a conflict of interest,” Carter said. “I have reviewed many of Mrs. Cobb’s ACP files and worked close with Mrs. Cobb on much of the ACP zoning issues. To my knowledge I do not know of any special exceptions being given to any ACP projects or applications.”

Carter recommended during the Tuesday meeting that the board table the proposal and refer it to the county’s utilities committee. The committee, she said, includes herself, District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant, District Two Supervisor Donnie Bryan, County Attorney E.M. Wright, County Finance Director Karl Carter and ACP representatives not yet determined.

Carter said the committee would take the public comments into consideration and bring a recommendation back to the board in January.

Dominion Energy representative Emmett Toms gave a presentation during the meeting, citing that once construction is complete, the original topographic conditions and contours of the area would be restored.

Toms said the pipeline would primarily be located underground with a minimum depth of 5 feet.

According to Toms, the completed installation would not alter the elevation of floodplains, would comply with federal and state regulations, and said it does not pose adverse effects on channel crossings.

Toms said that the ACP received the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in October of 2017 by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC).

Thirteen people spoke during the hearing, with one speaking in favor and 12 speaking in opposition.

Concerns expressed included the potential for erosion, the project’s close proximity to bodies of water and current federal cases the ACP is involved that have caused work to stop on the pipeline.

Ernie Reed, who serves as the Central District Supervisor with the Nelson County Board of Supervisors, spoke as a private citizen during the hearing.

The Nelson County Board of Supervisors recently became the subject of a lawsuit from the ACP three days after the county denied the ACP’s variance requests for floodplain crossings, according to a report from The News & Advance.

He said the pipeline has received vacated permits that have stalled or halted construction of the pipeline throughout its route.

“I believe it’s premature to rule on the variances prior to the resolution of court challenges to the issuance of the FERC Certificate for Convenience and Necessity,” Reed said. “To the issuance of federal permits required for the project, and critical site-specific information essential to the analysis for the floodplain variances.”

Reed cited challenges for the ACP to cross waterways.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November ruled to suspend a permit authorizing ACP to construct instream or wetland construction anywhere through its route, according to a report by the Virginia Mercury.

Members of the board, after the hearing, voted to approve Carter’s recommendation to table the proposal to January.

KCI Technologies, Inc., Cobb said in a previous report, was hired to review documents related to the floodplain and provide an assessment of compliance or non-compliance with granting a variance for the county’s ordinance.

KCI conducted an initial review in June and found that there was insufficient information to grant a waiver to the floodplain ordinance and said KCI met with ACP and requested further documentation. KCI provided a review dated Oct. 24.

“In summary, KCI reports that the documents they were given should not be accepted as justification of ‘no-rise’ because they do not meet industry standard,” the packet cited.

KCI proposed two options, according to the memo, to either provide conditional approval with final approval contingent upon proper documentation, or delay any decision until proper documentation is provided.

“ACP received a copy of the review and has responded with the attached letter dated November 1, 2018,” the memo cited. “In summary, ACP disagrees with KCI’s assessment and asserts there is no industry standard and they wish to move forward with a public hearing for the floodplain variance. ACP agrees to a conditional approval and has suggested some of their own conditions. Many of the conditions do align with KCI’s but not all are the same.”