RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal commission denied a request Wednesday from developers of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline to continue cutting down trees along the project’s route beyond an initial deadline designed to protect birds and bats.
Dominion Energy, leading percentage owner of the natural gas pipeline, told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this month that it appeared workers couldn’t complete tree felling in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina on time and asked for an extension.
Despite the denial Wednesday, a spokesman for the project said it will remain on track for completion by the end of 2019.
Dominion agreed to the tree-felling restrictions as part of the project’s environmental review process. The windows vary from state to state but generally prohibit tree cutting from mid-March or early April through mid-September or mid-November. Virginia’s restriction began March 15.
Dominion, in a letter seeking an extension, wrote that the proposed modification would be at least as environmentally protective as the initially agreed-to limits.
FERC disagreed. A division director wrote in the denial letter Wednesday that the request “would not offer an equal or greater level of protection.”
Environmental groups praised the decision.
“Those restrictions were put in place for an important purpose, which was to protect migratory birds and bats,” said Greg Buppert, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “And we think FERC made the right decision and held Dominion to its promise to implement those restrictions for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the pipeline has 30 days to appeal the decision.
Pipeline spokesman Aaron Ruby said that, as of Wednesday, tree felling has been completed on more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) of the 600-mile (965-kilometer) route, less than initially planned for this year.
“For any large infrastructure project, we have to plan for contingencies,” Ruby wrote in an email. “By rearranging some of our construction plans and shifting some work to 2019, we’ll keep the project on track for completion by the end of next year.”
A presentation Dominion recently gave state environmental officials, obtained through a public records request and provided to The Associated Press, provided insight on the business impacts project delays would have.
The presentation said that if “full mechanized construction” can’t start until spring, there would be a $150 million to $200 million impact. If only partial construction is started by summer, there would be a $250 million to $350 million total impact, the presentation said.
Finally, it said that if “we cannot start in time to ensure a full and efficient construction season and have to delay service by one year, the impact would be $1 billion.”