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Legislators Call For Another Mountain Valley Pipeline Delay

construction site
Mountain Valley Pipeline construction in Franklin County, Virginia. (Photo: Anne Bernard, an affected landowner)

A group of Virginia legislators has sent an open letter to Gov. Ralph Northam and state health officials requesting a further halt on construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the project’s parent company, Equitrans Midstream Corporation, the 303-mile pipeline is 91% complete. But a federal stop-work order for environmental violations has delayed progress for months.

The developer announced in a May phone call to investors plans to bring on 4,000 additional construction workers to finish the job once that order is lifted.

Now, a group of 22 Virginia legislators led by delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Chris Hurst are trying to put another stay on the project, saying the plan to bring in non-local workers to complete it would result in coronavirus outbreaks along the pipeline’s path. 

“Allowing more than 4,000 out-of-state workers to move into rural Virginia at a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our communities endangers the health of our residents and workers alike,” Carroll Foy said.

Many of those localities, such as Giles and Craig Counties, have little or no nearby access to ICU beds and are heavily populated by vulnerable groups, including senior citizens and Black and Latino people.

The legislators, all Democrats, are calling on Northam and Virginia health officials to do “everything in their power” to stop further development before the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

A representative of Equitrans and the pipeline disputes that they’ll be bringing in many “non-local” workers. They say that most already have long-term residences in those areas, and are following state-recommended precautions against the virus.

“They are members of their local communities; and they are dealing with the COVID-19 situation together with their neighbors and other members of the community,” the spokesperson said.

The representative also said that the workers currently on-site - responsible for maintenance on erosion and sediment controls - have followed state-recommended safety guidelines.

Although the project is almost done, activists hope that further delays will result in a cancellation similar to that of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Equitrans says they expect to complete the pipeline in early 2021 with an additional 5% cost increase, for a total of about $5.7 billion, up from the $3.5 billion anticipated at the outset of the project.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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