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SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE ASSOCIATION

400 Scruggs Road, Suite 2100, Moneta, VA 24121

www.SMLAssociation.org

Protecting the Investment of SML Residents

 

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Smith Mountain Lake Association Reports

1. Waterfront Property Rights/SHORE Act Download

The issue of private property rights and regulation of water front properties is always a hot topic around the lake. The SMLA has been continually been deeply involved in representing resident interests trying to shape provisions in the Shore Management Plan.  There is a current challenge to AEP's Shore Management Plan regarding interpretations of  flowage easements.  As usual, there are legal positions on both sides of the issue and resolution will ultimately fall to a court decision.  Feedback from our membership has also fallen on both sides of the issue.  It's early in the litigation process and the SMLA board will continue to monitor the facts and progress or changes in litigation.

In a separate action the SMLA board has written in support of the “Supporting Home Owner Rights Enforcement Act or 'SHORE' Act” (H.R.4976) that was reintroduced by U.S. Representative Robert Hurt in June 2014. In summary this proposal amends the Federal Power Act, regarding the issue of licenses for construction of dams, conduits, and reservoirs, to direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), when deciding whether to issue a license for project works, to give equal consideration to minimizing infringement on the useful exercise and enjoyment of property rights held by nonlicensees. It requires the licensee, in developing any recreational resource within the project boundary, to consider private landownership as a means to encourage and facilitate private investment, increased tourism, and recreational use.
This is not just a local issue and has co-sponsorship from representatives from North Carolina, Missourri and Oklahoma. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

2. Waterfront Property Rights/SMP Download

The issue of private property rights and regulation of waterfront properties is always a hot topic around the lake.  There is a current challenge to AEP’s Shore Management Plan (SMP) regarding interpretations of the validity of AEP’s flowage easements.   As usual, there are legal positions on both sides of the issue and resolution will ultimately fall to a court decision.  It’s early in the litigation process and the SMLA board will continue to monitor the facts and progress or changes in litigation.   

The SMLA board has been actively involved in these issues throughout its history. Recently SMLA participated with AEP and 13 other organizations in 11 steering committee meetings and 8 stakeholder meetings seeking input on needed improvements to the SMP. SMLA questioned AEP’s policy regarding property rights with respect to the transfer of docks, but AEP refused to address the issue at that time. Although the results were disappointing, in that AEP did not include many of the steering committee’s recommendations, a subsequent 14 month negotiating session was brokered by our Washington D.C. representatives. While many issues were resolved, the property rights issue was not resolved.  The resulting SMP was issued in January 2014. Following that issuance, the issue of whether AEP’s current flowage agreements are sufficient to implement the SMP, have become a concern in the community.

Until the court acts on the legal issue of AEP’s ability to implement and enforce the Shoreline Management Plan and associated processes, a real direction or need for action cannot be determined. We are looking for feedback from our membership regarding the general need for regulations on the lake to ensure safe and enjoyable recreation. Please address them to: theoffice@smlassociation.org

3. Final Comments on the Shoreline Management Plan Download

COMMENTS
On the Updated Shoreline Management Plan for Project # 2210-207
Submitted to: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION (FERC)

Date of this submission: April 12, 2011 by the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA)

Reference: Hydroelectric application filed with the Commission
a. Application Type: Updated shoreline management plan (SMP)
b. Project No: 2210-207
c. Date Filed: January 3, 2011, supplemented on February 18, 2011
d. Applicant: Appalachian Power Company (APCO)
e. Name of Project: Smith Mountain Pumped Storage Project

These comments are in response to the revised Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) submitted by Appalachian Power Company (APCO) of the same subject as listed above.

The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) agrees there is a need for an SMP and therefore embraced the opportunity to participate on the steering committee to revise the SMP.  Two of our board members represented our organization on the steering committee with the understanding that the mission of the steering committee was to shape the new SMP to meet the needs of the project and its stakeholders.  The SMLA also participated in the licensing process for the Smith Mountain Project from the beginning so we are known to the FERC staff. We are a membership based – 1200+ families – organization representing the interests of residents of Smith Mountain Lake. Our twenty-member board is comprised of volunteers.

SMLA hereby requests that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

  •  Deny approval of the submitted updated SMP and
  • Reopen the revision process with the inclusion of an independent third party to guide the development of the plan.

SMLA through our two Steering Committee appointees fully participated in the SMP revision process attending all eight meetings with various stakeholder groups as listed in the subject revised SMP in Table 1.5-4. Stakeholder Meetings and the eleven Steering Committee meetings as listed in the subject revised SMP in Table 1.5-3. Steering Committee Meeting Dates.
Upon reading the submitted revised SMP, SMLA realized the futility of our efforts on the steering committee, and we recognized that the steering committee was nothing more than window dressing to feign a cooperative effort by APCO. Most recommendations of steering committee members were not incorporated into the proposed plan.  Furthermore, the plan often ignores existing standards, recommendations and definitions already established by local, state and federal agencies and regulations.

SMLA strongly supports the Tri-County Relicensing Committee’s (TCRC) comments filed separately, the SMP fails to strike the proper balance – SMP goal #8. 
Additionally, SMLA emphasizes four major points of concern from our member with the revised SMP.
First:  The proposed SMP regulations often do not conform to local, state and federal regulations and guidelines. An example is the designation of wetlands in the proposed SMP. Proposed SMP wetlands do not follow classifications of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) "Wetland Delineation Manual, Technical Report Y-87-1, January 1987, Final Report" (Federal Manual). The proposed SMP enables APCO to arbitrarily designate wetlands with no reference to the USACE definitions. This puts property owners at risk of not being able to build docks, access the water or recreate along the shoreline on their own property for no substantiated reason.
Second: SMLA objects to the proposed planting density requirements. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has planting density guidelines, as do Master Gardener associations. SMLA and the Virginia DCR agreed on needed changes during the steering committee meetings, which considers the existing plant and tree density and canopy along the shoreline in order to determine the amount of additional plants and trees needed to create a healthy established root system and canopy to assist in protecting the quality of water within the project lakes. APCO after stating that they agreed with this change did not incorporate the recommendations of SMLA and the Virginia DCR. Though APCO reduced the requirements of replanting densities to amend removal of vegetation or mitigate permit violations, they did so arbitrarily cutting the prior SMP requirements in half. The plan still requires excessive planting densities that often are not sustainable by the amount of soil and water available. Furthermore, they often require these plantings with no regard to the season or the water available to the homeowner to establish the plantings.

SMLA disagrees with using vegetative mitigation to rectify an issue that APCO has with a dock. The revised SMP would enable APCO to continue to use mitigation as punishment for infringements to the plan. We do not understand the connection or the validity of the punishment that frequently costs property owners thousands of dollars. For example, SMLA cannot identify any logic in requiring a homeowner to plant trees and shrubs in their yard as mitigation for a dock roofline being extended beyond its original measurements. This aspect of the plan only serves to enable APCO to strong-arm residents to landscape as APCO desires.

Third: The transfer of dock permits with property and home sales is another critical issue of concern to all lake residents and businesses. In cases where a dock does not exactly match the permit on file, property sellers are burdened with renovating or removing modifications and rebuilding the dock to permit specifications prior to the sale. Often times the seller does not know the dock permit will not transfer with the property until the seller receives an offer on his/her property. The seller is then faced with the financial burden or making changes and the unexpected delay in the sale, which can cause the property sale to fall through. If there is an issue with a house or property, often funds are held in escrow until the issue is resolved post closing and transfer of the deed. SMLA does not think APCO has the right to delay transfer of the dock permit with the sale of the property. The damages incurred with delay or cancellation of a property sale are often disproportionate to monies involved with a dock issue. APCO should be required by FERC to transfer the dock permit with transfer of the property deed after the appropriate dock escrow is created. 

Fourth: Affecting all efforts to comply with the SMP is customer service. The consensus of the steering committee was that APCO must strive for greater customer service. The proposed SMP does not include specific commitments to maintain reasonable business hours, respond in a timely manner to e-mail and phone requests, or issue permits in within a reasonable time period. There is not a designated person on staff who can assist with the requirements of the SMP.  Permit applicants often drive to the local APCO office only to find that they must slip a note under the door and that they will not be assisted without a prior appointment.

APCO should be required by FERC to have regular open office hours each week where property owners and businesses, such as dock builders, can go to submit dock applications, discuss issues and seek assistance during regular business hours. This is customary for businesses and agencies conducting business and serving customers. APCO does not have an open office near the project. This encumbers communication and prompt approval of dock applications and resolution of issues. Also to facilitate communication, APCO should be required to answer the phone or at least return phone call messages and e-Mails within 48 business hours. This is not the current APCO practice. APCO should also be required by FERC to communicate any Issue with a dock application or other project related permit within a reasonable time, such as one week. Delays are expensive for both dock builders and property owners.

APCO should be required to:

  • Have regular office hours offering assistance to property owners and businesses
  • Respond to phone calls and e-mails within 48 hours
  • Adhere to communication timeframes to avoid delays that are costly to property owners and marine business operators

In summary our primary concerns are:

  • SMP regulations should conform with local, state and federal regulations
  • Mitigation should not be punishment
  • Dock permits should transfer with the property when it is sold
  • APCO should be required to provide greater levels of customer service 

The SMLA strives to serve as a steward of Smith Mountain Lake and its stakeholders.  The implementation of a shoreline management plan is critical to both. Our intent in participating in the steering committee to develop the pending plan was to ensure the voices of our members were included in the development of the plan to ensure it is logical, complies with existing regulations of recognized authorities and recognizes and allows for stakeholders to enjoy their property. The Smith Mountain Lake Association appreciates this opportunity to comment upon APCO’s proposed revised SMP that is so vital to the health of Smith Mountain Lake and the economies of the surrounding communities. We request the FERC assistance in resolving the aforementioned issues.
Sincerely,

Kristina Mize
President

4. Comments on Mountian Valley Pipeline Project June, 2015 Download

Smith Mountain Lake Association’s (SMLA)
Comments on Potential Environmental Issues with
The Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Project

FERC Project Docket # PF15-3-000                                                            June 8, 2015

The Smith Mountain Lakes Project (SMLP) is a two-reservoir pumped storage hydroelectric generation project facility near Roanoke, Virginia, completed in the mid-1960s. SMLP is operated by Appalachian Power Company (APCO) which is owned by American Electric Power (AEP). SMLP has 600 miles of shoreline and 25,000 surface acres of water. The project is also used for recreation and a source of potable water for two of the surrounding four counties comprising Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. It is a major tourism attraction for the region and an important source of tax revenue for the surrounding counties.
The SMLP has a larger upper reservoir -- Smith Mountain Lake (SML) -- and a smaller lower reservoir-- Leesville Lake (LVL).  Water stored in SML first passes through turbine-generators in the powerhouse to produce electricity and is discharged into LVL.  Much of the water is retained in (LVL) and pumped back into the SML for re-use.  A portion of the water goes through the turbine-generators at the Leesville powerhouse to generate additional electricity and to meet the minimum discharge requirements of the project's operating license. Three significant rivers flow into the project. The Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers flow into the SML project above the SML Dam and the Pigg River flows into LVL above the LVL Dam. Via the pump- back feature of the project, some of the water from the Pigg River and LVL also co-mingles with the SML waters.
The MVP as planned will pass the SMLP to the south, mainly in Franklin County, and then into Pittsylvania County where it crosses under the Pigg River and continues to terminate at the existing Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company LLC's existing Zone 5 Compressor Station 165 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The pipeline as planned will pass four miles north of the town of Rocky Mount, Virginia, the Franklin County seat. Franklin County currently has no access to natural gas.
These SMLA comments pertain to the potential environmental impact on the SML project and Franklin County, Virginia. It should be noted that water released from the LVL dam flows into the downstream Virginia Department Game and Inland Fisheries Hatchery and past the Dominion Power Plant then into Lake Gaston and eventually the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds in North Carolina.
The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) represents the interests of owners of 1,300 properties around SML. One of SMLA’s most important programs is to monitor and improve the water quality of the Smith Mountain Lake.
The proposed MVP project as currently planned would pass through the Smith Mountain Lake Watershed and at the closest point would pass one mile south of SML at the south side of the intersection of highways Route 40 and Route 834.
SMLA’s comments follow by the prescribed subject category.

  1. Geology and Soils
    1. There is an abundance of clay based soil in the area. Franklin County is known for its red clay. This clay-based soil is susceptible to being compacted by heavy construction equipment which may result in increased surface water runoff from rain and storms-- runoff which carries sediment, nutrients, pollutants into the rivers and streams that flow into the SML Project. Techniques should be required to reduce runoff, clean up contamination, and de- compact soil where possible during and post construction.
    2. The removal of trees, underbrush, vegetation and soil during pipeline construction will also increase water runoff from the pipeline construction and operation area.
  2. There is Karst terrain, sinkholes and caves that geological surveys should help define.  Pipeline construction should either avoid these and/or use appropriate construction techniques to avoid water runoff contaminates including sediment flowing into these geological structures and polluting the water that flows into and out of them.
  3. There are areas surrounding the SML Project where the ground has high levels of mica, referred to as “isinglass” soil, which can make the ground unstable, especially on a slope. If isinglass soil is encountered, appropriate construction techniques should be employed.
  4. There have been earthquake tremors and minor damage within the SML project area. The concern is that the ground disturbance could cause a pipeline rupture and possibly an explosion. MVP operations should utilize earthquake monitoring technology and shut down the pipeline when tremors are detected. This ground disturbance occurs very infrequently. Many years or even decades pass between tremors. Regardless, the risk is real.
  1. Water resources and wetlands
    1. The SMLA Water Management Committee found the following facts during its prior study of water flow into SML:
      1. The majority of the SML drainage area lies in Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties.
      2. Major localized storms covering 100 sq. miles or more in area can drop 6 to 8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period and are not an infrequent occurrence.  Such heavy rain events may result in significant erosion from construction sites.
      3.  The rainfall for these storms may not be accurately recorded on the historical rain gages (those installed before about 2010), and the runoff from these storms may not be observed by the USGS stream flow gages.
      4.  Given the findings above, the most accurate method that SMLA found for estimating net inflow to SML was by using Leesville outflow data from the Corps of Engineers and SML/Leesville lake level data from AEP.  

      Much of the proposed MVP pipeline route through Franklin County lies below the USGS gage on the Blackwater at Rocky Mount.  Consequently, estimates of significant erosion events based on historical rainfall and streamflow may significantly underestimate the erosion effects and resulting biological impact generated by the pipeline construction and reclamation activities on streams feeding SML in Franklin County. 

      SMLA suggests that MVP project planners be required to use actual inflows to SML, as stated in #4 above, and not inferred inflows from historical rainfall and streamflow gages. Additionally, it must be determined that the erosion-control efforts proposed for the MVP project are indeed adequate to control water and sediment runoff from large rainfall events. Members of SMLA are willing to meet with MVP project planners and/or their consultants to discuss further our water flow study results and suggestions.
    2. If proper pipeline construction techniques are not used, soil and water contamination will result. The Smith Mountain Lake project, including the rivers and streams which flow into it, could be negatively impacted by one or all of the following: increased turbidity, sedimentation, decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations, releases of chemical and nutrient pollutants from sediments, and introduction of chemical contaminants, such as fuels and lubricants.
    3. If wells and aquafers are contaminated during construction and/or operation, a disruption for use as potable water for local people, farm animals and pets could occur. Providing an alternate source of potable water may be required in addition to conducting mitigation.
    4. Potential negative impact upon fish and aquatic vegetation could occur as a result of any increased turbidity, sedimentation, decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations, releases of chemical and nutrient pollutants from sediments, and introduction of chemical contaminants, such as fuels and lubricants. It is expected that if proper construction and operation procedures are followed, this will be temporary and limited to a localized construction or operational issue that can be corrected and not become a long-term concern.
    5. SMLA recommends that the MVP project  be required to put some groundwater monitoring wells in Franklin County and provide SMLA access to the data to help monitor possible contamination.
    6. The negative impact upon wildlife resulting from reduced access to clean water and healthy vegetation due to construction or operational issues should hopefully be short-term. The impact of the above mentioned water resource issues should be reduced by the required use of the Best Pipeline Construction Management Practices. We recommend that swales be used on the edges of the construction boundaries to help prevent runoff of sediment, oils and grease from construction equipment and other contaminants spreading to land and waters beyond the construction area. If the swales do become contaminated, their cleanup is limited to a smaller area.
  2. Temporary construction and permanent access roads and parking areas should be constructed from permeable substrate and surface materials to minimize altering water flow into the ground and creating runoff issues. Materials like coarse stone and permeable top surfaces such as permeable concrete should be utilized where possible. This is especially important when dealing with slopes and increased surface water runoff issues.
  1. Vegetation and wildlife
      1.   As stated in II f. above, there is potential negative impact upon wildlife resulting from reduced access to clean water and healthy vegetation.
      2. There is the negative impact of both temporary and permanent loss of wildlife habitat from the clearing for construction. Where loss of habitat endangers specific wildlife, they should be relocated as soon as possible and prior to the actual onset of construction.
      3.  Very minimal to no impact on the fish in SMLP and downstream fish hatchery is expected and would be short-term, if surface water runoff and any resulting contamination are handled properly.
      4. There will be temporary disruption of the wildlife normal routes for access to water, grazing land and trails. Wildlife relocation may be required where the disruption is pronounced and/or prolonged to the degree they are endangered.
      5.   There will be temporary loss of vegetation from the construction area and permanent loss from some of the operating area and permanent access roads and parking lots.
      6.  Re-vegetation and re-forestation of disturbed lands should be required where feasible including periodic application of water and nutrients during the first three years to facilitate growth. If vegetation and trees are not watered and given nutrients for the first few years, they will most likely die. Virginia native trees, plants and seeds should be used to increase the survival rate.
      7.   Restoring of compacted soil should be required prior to application of top soil, grass seed, planting of vegetation and or trees.
      8. Top soil conservation and reapplication should be utilized wherever possible.
  1. Cultural resources
      1.   A survey of culturally significant resources in the path of the pipeline construction area and appropriate measures should be taken to preserve these resources before construction begins. Likewise, if unknown cultural resources are discovered during construction, appropriate mitigation measures should be taken to preserve these resources.
  2. Appalachian Power Company should be contacted with regard to their knowledge of any cultural resources within the SML Project. They were required to define these for their SML Project operation relicensing.
  1. Land use, recreation and visual resources
    1. Agriculture is a very important industry in Franklin County including the growing of crops, the grazing of dairy cows, and raising of beef cattle on both large commercial farm operations and small family farms. There will be a temporary loss of some agricultural land use during MVP construction. This loss of use of agricultural land should be minimized by prompt restoration of these lands to their former condition upon completion of pipeline construction. Farmers will have to move their grazing herds to other portions of a farm where construction is not under way. Cooperation with some farmers will be required to enable dairy cows access to the milking facilities when needed. This may include use of temporary crossway bridge decking and/or staggering construction schedules to complete one section before starting the adjacent section to enable herds to transgress the planned pipeline when needed.
    2. When clear cutting a construction path through forest land, every effort should be made to minimize the construction area to preserve the trees and wildlife habitat, and to minimize surface water runoff from the area. Additionally, every effort should be made to reduce the visual impact of the clear cutting where possible.
    3. Tunneling under all waterways, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other significant roads should be required so that the flow of water and traffic is not disrupted. For example, no housing development, emergency vehicle, farm, business, school or hospital should be without access.
    4. Likewise, appropriate setbacks for construction right-of-way boundaries should be used to enable continued short- and long-term use of homes, businesses, and other buildings near the construction pathway.
    5. The pipeline as currently planned will, at its closest point, pass one mile from the Smith Mountain Lake (SML), south of the intersection of highways VA Route 40 and 834. The direct impact upon the SML should be minimal from both an environmental and visual perspective. The risk to SML is from water contamination by runoff of sedimentation and contaminates into the rivers and smaller streams that flow into the SML Project as previously discussed in section II Water resources and wetlands.
    6. Recreation at SML should minimally impacted from the pipeline construction and operation. Tourists may have to take an alternate route to access SML. The risk may come from negative media reporting and “hype” causing tourists to stay away from the area.
  1. Socioeconomics
    1. Franklin County currently has no access to natural gas. The MVP officials have told the County Supervisors that a distribution company would be permitted to tap into the pipeline. Roanoke Gas has offered to be the distribution company. This enables the county to supply existing businesses with natural gas and to compete for large manufacturing companies to locate to the county.
    2. FTI consulting has estimated that ongoing operation of the pipeline would support a total of 34 jobs across the state with average annual wages and benefits of almost $67,000. 
    3. The MVP project could generate up to $1.9 million in annual county ad valorem taxes (property taxes) once in service, per FTI consulting.
    4. Local labor and other resources could be utilized during the construction as a direct benefit. Secondarily, the support businesses in the food and hospitality industries can benefit.
    5. As stated in V f. above, recreation at SML should have minimal impact from the pipeline construction and operation. The risk may come from negative media reporting “hype,” causing tourists to stay away from the area.
    6. In response to any media negative reporting, the SML Chamber of Commerce, SMLA, realtors and the hospitality industry will need to increase their SML advertising and promotional spending for a couple of years to try to counteract any impact from negative reporting regarding the pipeline.
  1. Air quality and noise
    1. There will be noise from the construction equipment; air quality will decline from exhaust fumes and the dust created by pipeline construction. This should be temporary.
    2. There are no compressor stations planned for the SML project area. The only post- construction noise should be from the vehicles used periodically during routine pipeline operations.
    3. With the incorporation of frequent shutoff valves in the pipeline and use of the latest leak- detection technology and equipment, any leaks of natural gas should be temporary and minor. The impact on air quality should be minimal, if these valves function properly. Prompt leak repair response from the MVP operator must also be required.
    4. The air quality and noise impact of periodic operational vehicles required for mowing or inspection of the pipeline should be minimal.
  1. Cumulative impacts
    1. The impact of construction of MVP on the SML Project waters including rivers, streams and the lakes should be minimal, temporary and recover quickly, if adequate measures to control runoff and to handle any contamination are utilized.
    2. There should be little to no impact to the SML Project view-shed as the pipeline is buried underground.  There will be long-term view-shed damage from the cutting of large hardwood trees within the pipeline construction path which will take 20 years or more to grow back to significant size. There will be no large trees growing within the narrower operational right-of-way or the permanent roads and parking areas.
    3. Any adverse media reporting during construction and longer-term negative reporting of any impact should be countered by the increased advertising and positive impact articles from the stakeholder organizations. There should be no lasting impact on tourism or other business.
    4. The negative impact on air quality is temporary as is construction noise.
    5. The rerouting of any traffic is temporary.
    6. The economic benefits to Franklin County from the access to natural gas from the MVP is a positive and cumulative benefit.
    7. The negative impact on wildlife should be temporary, if managed properly.
    8. Geology and soil should have minimal long-term cumulative impact, if any, from MVP.
    9. The cumulative impact on cultural resources is unknown and requires further study.
    10. No alternatives were addressed in this document, as none are anticipated in the plan for Franklin or Pittsylvania Counties.
  1. Public safety
  2. The biggest concern is the potential for a major gas leak and explosion, however remote a possibility. This concern requires added training of local Fire, EMS, Public Safety and Hospital personnel. Communication protocol between these organizations and MVP operators and safety personnel needs to be created, documented and understood.
  3. Potentially, additional equipment may be required for some of these local Fire, EMS and Public Safety and Hospital organizations.
  4. MVP must be required to use the best construction materials, welding, coating, testing technologies and pipeline construction methods combined with rigid and the most up-to-date inspection standards and inspection technology to minimize the possibility of an explosion and fire incident.

5. Comments on Mountian Valley Pipeline Project November, 2015 Download

Smith Mountain Lake Association’s (SMLA)
Comments on Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC; Equitrans, LP;
Notice of Applications
FR Doc. 2015-28771
Regarding The Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Project

FERC Project Docket # PF15-3-000                                                           November 30, 2015

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC                                                          Docket No. CP16-10-000
                                                                                                                  Docket No. PF15-3-000

Equitrans, LP                                                                                       Docket No. CP16-13-000
                                                                                                               Docket No. PF15-22-000

 

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE ASSOCIATION COMMENTS AND PETITION TO ACCEPT LATE FILED COMMENTS

Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) is a membership organization representing its members on issues that affect Smith Mountain Lake (SML) and its watershed. The Lake sits in Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia, and its watershed extends to other waterways feeding the Lake. SMLA herein expresses its concerns regarding additional analyses required by law preceding the approval of construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project in areas affecting the Smith Mountain Lake watershed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released the subject Notice on November 5, 2015, but the Notice did not appear in the Federal Register until November 12, stipulating a comment deadline of November 26, the Thanksgiving holiday. Subsequently FERC released an ERRATA NOTICE, changing the comments deadline to November 27. The ERRATA NOTICE has not appeared yet in the Federal Register. Because of the late notice, and difficulty of interactions with outside sources of information during the holiday period, SMLA requests permission to file today, one business day after the modified deadline.

Background Information
The Smith Mountain Lakes Project (SMLP) is a two-reservoir pumped storage hydroelectric generation project facility near Roanoke, Virginia, completed in the mid-1960s. SMLP is operated by Appalachian Power Company (APCO) which is owned by American Electric Power (AEP). SMLP has 600 miles of shoreline and 25,000 surface acres of water. The project is also used for recreation and a source of potable water for two of the surrounding four counties comprising Bedford, Campbell, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. It is a major tourism attraction for the region and an important source of tax revenue for the surrounding counties.
The SMLP has a larger upper reservoir -- Smith Mountain Lake (SML) -- and a smaller lower reservoir-- Leesville Lake (LVL).  Water stored in SML first passes through turbine-generators in the powerhouse to produce electricity and is discharged into LVL.  Much of the water is retained in (LVL) and pumped back into the SML for re-use.  A portion of the water goes through the turbine-generators at the Leesville powerhouse to generate additional electricity and to meet the minimum discharge requirements of the project's operating license. Three significant rivers flow into the project. The Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers flow into the SML project above the SML Dam and the Pigg River flows into LVL above the LVL Dam. Via the pump- back feature of the project, some of the water from the Pigg River and LVL also co-mingles with the SML waters.
The MVP as planned will pass the SMLP to the south, mainly in Franklin County, and then into Pittsylvania County where it crosses under the Pigg River and continues to terminate at the existing Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company LLC's existing Zone 5 Compressor Station 165 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The pipeline as planned will pass four miles north of the town of Rocky Mount, Virginia, the Franklin County seat. Franklin County currently has no access to natural gas.
It should be noted that water released from the LVL dam flows into the downstream Virginia Department Game and Inland Fisheries Hatchery and past the Dominion Power Plant then into Lake Gaston and eventually the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds in North Carolina.
The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) represents the interests of owners of 1,300 properties around SML. One of SMLA’s most important programs is to monitor and improve the water quality of the Smith Mountain Lake.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE ASSOCIATION COMMENTS

 

Deficiencies in the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) Documents Filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC)
 
Introductory Comments and Requested Actions

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has filed an application (Docket No. CP16-10-000) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct, own and operate the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  The MVP materials supporting this application have been reviewed to identify any deficiencies that might impact the performance of the SMLP (FERC project number 2210-199) that is operated by the Appalachian Electric Power Company.  The major deficiency that was identified was the explicit exclusion in Section 2.1.1 by MVP of any effects from the MVP project on the near-surface groundwater flow in surficial aquifers.  As discussed below, this near-surface groundwater flow is the major water inflow to the SMLP and any reduction or redirection in that inflow could adversely affect the economic viability of the SMLP.  This primary deficiency directly leads to other deficiencies in Sections 1.10, 2.1.1.3, 2.1.4.1, 2.2.2 and 2.2.2.4 of the MVP filing.  Each of these additional deficiencies is also discussed below.

Our request is that each of these areas and our concerns are reflected in the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement so that all parties can comment on them.  Our greatest concern is that a possible problem associated with the MVP pipeline that could adversely affect the economic viability of the SMLP might occur and not be recognized until the pipeline has been installed.  At that point, mitigation measures may not be possible.

 

Specific Areas of Deficiency

The following section identifies the specific portions of the MVP FERC filing where deficiencies exist.  The specific section number and section title of the MVP filing are listed in bold, followed by key text from that section in quotation marks.  The text following that introductory material describes the deficiency we see, the reasons why it is considered a deficiency, including its potential impact on the SMLP, and any recommendations for resolving the deficiency.

Section 2.1.1 (Aquifers—Geology, Hydrology, Uses and Quality) “Groundwater aquifers used for public and private water sources can be located in unconsolidated units or lithified bedrock units, depending on the location.  Unconsolidated surficial deposits, such as alluvium, alluvial fans, and colluvium, are found in all the aquifer systems.  These surficial aquifers are discontinuous both in extent and in terms of their aquifer characteristics and are not commonly used in the Project area.  As a result, surficial aquifers have not been mapped by state agencies or otherwise documented in the area of the Project.  Bedrock aquifers are the primary source of groundwater in the Project area.” 

As explained in the following text, the MVP Project risks interrupting the near-surface groundwater flow that constitutes a major fraction of the water flowing into the SMLP.   MVP needs to complete and file studies explaining how it will assess this threat and protect against harmful interruptions as appropriate.

The SMLP is fed by the Roanoke, Blackwater and Pigg Rivers, representing drainage from Montgomery, Salem, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, together with some drainage from Bedford County.  The drainage area for the SML/Leesville project below the Niagara dam on the Roanoke River below Roanoke is primarily from Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, about 965 sq. mi or roughly 65% of the total drainage area (Reference 1).

As shown in Figure 1, reproduced from Reference 2, groundwater in this region can be roughly divided into two components: (1) the deep groundwater in the fractured bedrock and (2) the near-surface (or surficial) groundwater lying above the bedrock in the regolith saturated zone.  Reference 2 states “Because of the relative high porosity of the regolith, most recharge is stored in this unit and is released slowly to the underlying bedrock fractures.  Because fractures and dissolution openings in the bedrock are conduits for ground-water flow, well yields are greatest where wells intersect fractures or dissolution opening that are large, numerous, or both.”

This near-surface groundwater constitutes a major portion of the water flow into the SMLP, primarily through its flow into streams and rivers and through the lake shores.  This near-surface groundwater flow also shows a distinct seasonal variability and a strong dependence on winter groundwater recharge.  Reference 3 indicates this groundwater flow (also referred to as base flow) constitutes about 60-70% of the total annual flow into the project.  The results of our analyses in References 4 and 5 are consistent with these findings. 

In the SML/Leesville drainage areas in Franklin and Pittsylvania counties, the median depth of the bedrock is about 58 ft. below the land surface, with the water table median depth about 12 to 17 ft. above the bedrock (Reference 6).  However, Reference 6 also states that minimum depths to the bedrock can be within a meter or so from the land surface.   We believe it is reasonable to assume these regions of shallow bedrock have shallow water tables in the saturated regolith that are also nearer the surface.

Under these conditions and this assumption, anytime the MVP pipeline cuts into the bedrock it will cut into the water table and potentially disrupt the flow of near-surface groundwater.  From Appendix 6B of the MVP FERC filing, locations in Franklin County where the bedrock can potentially lie within the depth of the pipeline trench occur 43 times, for a total distance of 15.9 miles, about 44% of the total pipeline 36 mile path through Franklin County. 

As a result, the MVP may potentially disrupt the flow of groundwater into the SMLP for a large fraction of Franklin County in at least 3 possible ways:

1. The pipeline trench may block the flow of groundwater into the lakes, reducing that flow and allowing a greater fraction of the near-surface groundwater to enter the deeper bedrock

2. The blasting in areas where the pipeline must cut into the bedrock may create additional fractures in the bedrock, allowing a greater fraction of the near-surface groundwater to enter the deeper bedrock, bypassing the lakes.

3. Since there is a significant vertical drop in the height of the land crossed by the pipeline path in Franklin County, going from about 2700 ft. where it enters the County to about 900 ft. where it exits the County, the pipeline trench may act as a conduit to shift groundwater flow from the Smith Mountain Lake drainage areas to the Leesville Lake drainage areas.

Given that near-surface groundwater flow into the two lakes is a major component of total water flow, all 3 possibilities--- a reduction in groundwater flow into the two lakes in the first two possibilities or a transfer of groundwater flow from Smith Mountain Lake to Leesville Lake in the third possibility--- could have a significant negative impact on the economic feasibility of the SMLP for electrical energy generation.  .

Consequently, we believe MVP was incorrect in their decision to ignore surficial aquifers and that this failure represents a major deficiency in their filing.  Given the importance of near-surface groundwater to the success of the SMLP, we also believe that MVP should address this near-surface groundwater issue by consulting with a recognized authority on groundwater flows in the Franklin and Pittsylvania counties.

Section 1.10 (Cumulative Impacts) The MVP filing states “The purpose of cumulative impacts analysis is to identify and describe cumulative impacts that would potentially result from implementation of the Project. … Projects meeting one or more of the criteria listed below will be considered in this cumulative analysis…..Specifically, the cumulative analysis for MVP will include:

  • Minor projects, such as residential development, small commercial development, and small transportation projects within 0.25 mile of the Project area;
  • Major projects, such as large commercial, industrial, transportation and energy development projects within a 10-mile corridor of the Project area (5 miles of the Project centerline).  This includes natural gas well permitting ad development projects;
  • Major projects within watersheds crossed by the Project.  Watershed boundaries were identified using the HUC-10, of 5th Level Watershed; and ….”

The MVP filing does not address all of the possible cumulative impacts, failing to assess any possible impact on the SMLP.  MVP needs to complete and file studies assessing any cumulative impact on this energy project and identifying mitigation measures as appropriate.

Cumulative effects are defined in the MVP filing as “the impact on the environment which results from the incremental consequences of an action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions…” The second and third bullets above together indicate cumulative analysis should be conducted for major energy projects that are within watersheds crossed by the Project.  The MVP filing states in Table 2.2.1 that the MVP project crosses 7 HUC-10 watersheds that feed the SMLP, with the acronym HUC standing for Hydrographic Unit Code.   However, the SML/Leesville project is not included in the list of energy projects addressed in Table 1.10.1, rendering MVP’s cumulative impact assessment complete.  Given the importance of near-surface groundwater to both Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake, this Table should be expanded to include the SMLP and appropriate studies conducted to assess the threat and possible mitigation measures.

Section 2.1.1.3  (Water Quality) “The Project is not anticipated to have any impacts to groundwater resources or require additional mitigation measures.  This is due to the surficial nature of the disturbance, the relatively short-term nature of the disturbance, and because the aquifers and (sic) typically much deeper than any proposed disturbance area.”  

MVP’s conclusion about water quality is premature as a result of their decision in Section 2.1.1 to ignore any significant impact of the MVP Project on the near-surface groundwater flows.  Again, MVP should conduct appropriate studies to identify any threats resulting from near-surface water contamination and appropriate mitigation measures.

From the discussion earlier about the importance of near-surface groundwater to both Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake, contamination of the near-surface groundwater caused by spills of various chemicals, oils and fuels in the temporary work areas from pipeline may impair the water quality of the lakes.  Moreover, groundwater contamination may last for a long period of time, well past the pipeline construction period.  The water from the lakes will be used in the future for public drinking water by the Bedford Regional Water Authority and it is anticipated that other municipal areas will also draw drinking water from the lakes in the future.  We feel that some discussion of this contamination possibility and appropriate mitigation measures, if necessary, should be added to the MVP filing.

Section 2.1.4.1 (Construction Activities) The MVP filing states “Surficial aquifers could experience minor disturbances from changes in overland water flow and recharge caused by clearing and grading the right-of-way.  The ability of the soil to absorb water can be altered through near-surface compaction by heavy construction vehicles.  This minor impact would be temporary and is not expected to significantly impact groundwater resources or quality.  It is noted that most groundwater use along the Project alignment taps deeper bedrock aquifers.”  

MVP’s conclusion in this section is premature for the same reason cited in section 2.1.1.3--- ignoring the importance of near-surface groundwater to both Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake.

As shown by our earlier comments under section 2.1.1, near-surface groundwater is a major contributor to the Smith Mountain and Leesville Lakes, at variance to the MVP statement above about most groundwater use coming from the deeper bedrock aquifers. In particular, near-surface compaction along the pipeline trench in the areas where the trench cuts into bedrock in Franklin County may act to block the flow of groundwater into the two lakes, with adverse effects on the economic viability of the SMLP.  MVP needs to document how it will protect this near-surface groundwater flow during construction.

 

Section 2.2.2 (Sensitive Waterbodies)  The MVP filing states “Sensitive surface waters include the following:  ……

  • Waters that support fisheries of specific concern (including trout streams).

 

Several waterbodies crossed by the Project possess one or more of the above characteristics of sensitive surface waters.” 

MVP fails to include either Smith Mountain Lake or Leesville Lake in its analysis of sensitive waters that support fish hatcheries.

The Brookneal hatchery below the Leesville dam requires minimum flows during some months of the year to support fish hatcheries.  If the MVP pipeline causes near-surface groundwater inflows to the lakes to decrease, the reduced lake levels may not be able to satisfy the required discharges for the Brookneal fish hatcheries.   Since the MVP Project crosses many of the streams and rivers that feed the lakes supporting the Brookneal hatchery, the Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake should be included in the discussion of sensitive waters.  If there is a possible impact on the Brookneal hatchery, appropriate mitigation measures should be developed by the MVP.

Section 2.2.2.4 (Surface Water Protection Areas and Public surface Water Supplies) The MVP filing has a list of public water supplies along the MVP Project in Table 2.2.8 and their distance to them.  This Table needs t be expanded to include the Bedford Regional Water Authority (BRWA) which is now constructing water intakes to take drinking water from Smith Mountain Lake. 

The BRWA’s plan to withdraw drinking water from Smith Mountain Lake can be adversely affected by low lake levels.  If the MVP disrupts the flow of near-surface groundwater to the lakes sufficiently, lake levels may drop low enough to limit BRWA’s ability to withdraw water from Smith Mountain Lake.  The BRWA should be included in Table 2.2.8 of the MVP filing and, depending on the results of the analysis of a knowledgeable hydrologist on the MVP pipeline’s impact on groundwater flow to the lakes, appropriate mitigation measures should be developed.

Summary

The explicit exclusion in Section 2.1.1 by MVP of any effects from the project on the near-surface (or surficial) groundwater flow is the primary deficiency in the MVP filing with FERC.  As discussed above, this near-surface groundwater flow is known to be a major fraction of the water inflow to the SMLP and any reduction or redirection in that inflow could adversely affect the economic viability of the SMLP.  Several other deficiencies are also discussed, but these are seen as a consequence of this primary deficiency. It is felt that a hydrologist familiar with groundwater flow in the Franklin/Pittsylvania counties should consulted in the resolution of these issues and concerns.   In addition, appropriate long-term monitoring of near-surface groundwater flows in the Franklin/Pittsylvania counties should be part of the MVP Project to monitor any impact of the MVP on the SMLP.

References:

1.  Current Conditions for Virginia Stream Flow, USGS website at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/va/nwis/current/?type=flow, (drainage areas are listed in the Map/Location section for each USGS gage)

2. Summary of the Hydrogeology of the Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, and Piedmont Physiographic Provinces in the Eastern United States, L.A. Swain, T.O. Mesko and E.F. Hollyday, IS Geological Survey Professional Paper 1422-A, 2004

3. Estimated Hydrologic Characteristics of Shallow Aquifer Systems in the Valley and Ridge, the Blue ridge, and the Piedmont Physiographic Provinces Based on Analysis of Streamflow Recession and Base Flow, A.T. Rutledge ad T.O. Mesko, U.S. Geologic Survey Professional Paper 1422-B, 1996

4. The Role of Groundwater in the Roanoke River Streamflow, Dr. Charles Sinex, presented at the Roanoke Rivers Currents Conference at Ferrum College, October 2013

5. Study of Water Level and Release Issues at Smith Mountain and Leesville Lakes, Smith Mountain Lake Association Board Water Management Committee, February 2015, public comments provided to Appalachian Electric Power Company

6. Groundwater Resources of the Blue Ridge Geologic Province, Virginia, B.A White, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Technical Bulletin 12-01

 


 

Figure 1: Groundwater Components of the Regolith and Bedrock

6. Support of Bedford Stop on Proposed Amtrak Extension

Pertaining to the proposed Amtrak Extension from Lynchburg to Roanoke Virginia,
The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) requests full and fair consideration by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation for a stop to be added in Bedford Virginia. 

Furthermore, SMLA requests that the study be conducted in order to provide Bedford County the findings and conclusions as soon as possible.

Adding a stop in Bedford, consistent with the Bedford County expressed interest will also benefit the residents of and tourists to the greater Smith Mountain Lake area and further enhance the economic development of both Bedford and Franklin Counties.

 

7. The Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline and SML Water Levels By Dr. Charles Sinex Download Filing Report

What’s the Problem?

Adequate water levels in the Smith Mountain Lake (SML) and Leesville Lake are essential for supporting multiple activities, including the Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) Pumpback Project for electricity generation, recreation on the two lakes and commercial and recreational activities for users downstream from the Leesville dam. Groundwater flowing through the soils in Franklin County is a major source of the water flowing into these lakes. The possibility that the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) route may seriously reduce this critical groundwater flow into the lakes and the associated economic costs has not been studied by either MVP or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The Smith Mountain Lake Association ( SMLA) believes this is a serious deficiency in the DEIS and the SMLA has recommended that FERC ensure a hydrologist knowledgeable about near-surface groundwater flows in the Franklin and the associated counties is retained to quantitatively analyze and assess these issues before a decision about the MVP pipeline is made by FERC

Why is this a Problem?

Approximately 60% of the water flowing into the SML/Leesville Lakes is near-surface groundwater flowing through the soils above the bedrock, according to a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report. Approximately 50% of the SML/Leesville drainage area is upstream from the proposed pipeline route, raising the possibility that the pipeline may disrupt a significant fraction of this groundwater flow into the lakes. The proposed MVP route through Franklin and adjoining counties is shown in the figure, taken by the MVP. website https://www.mountainvalleypipeline.info/

The SMLA has identified 3 possible ways that the MVP might potentially cause a significant loss of groundwater flow into the SML and Leesville Lakes

1. The MVP filing shows that blasting or other methods to cut through bedrock will be required in about 44% of the proposed MVP path through Franklin County. Blasting –induced fractures in the bedrock may allow a significant fraction of this upstream groundwater to follow new paths and miss entering the lakes.

2. Soil depths in Franklin County are fairly shallow, with the bedrock within 7 feet of the surface for 31 percent of the pipeline path through Franklin County. A pipeline trench depth of up to 9 ft. may cause blocking of the upstream groundwater flow through the soil, again causing the groundwater to follow new paths and miss entering the lakes.

3. The pipeline trench may also act as a shunt, moving this near-surface groundwater flow from Franklin to Pittsylvania Counties.

The first two possibilities listed above may affect AEP’s ability to both generate electricity during summer periods and keep SML water levels high enough for summer recreation. Preliminary flow calculations using USGS streamflow gages suggest if Leesville releases remain unchanged, SML water levels could drop as much as 12 ft. annually. Clearly water releases from Leesville dam would be required to offset this water level drop. Based on economic data from the FERC relicensing of the AEP pumpback project, economic losses could be as much $7.6 million annually from lost electricity generation and reduced recreational opportunities.

The third possibility primarily shifts water from SML to Leesville Lake, making SML water levels dependent on the AEP pumpback activities to keep SML water levels high enough for recreational uses. Without this AEP pumpback, SML water levels could drop as much as 8 ft. annually, with local economic losses as much as $1.6 million annually or more, again using economic data from the FERC relicensing of the AEP pumpback project.

Neither FERC nor MVP has assessed the likelihood that the MVP route through Franklin County could significantly reduce the amount of groundwater flowing into SML/Leesville Lakes from any of these possibilities. Nor have they estimated the economic losses that might result, including the economic losses downstream from the Leesville dam if water releases from Leesville have to be reduced. In all 3 cases, the predictive model AEP uses to predict lake levels and initiate trigger points and reduced water releases from Leesville dam will also probably no longer work well and require revisions.

Recommendations

The SMLA recommends that the FERC final EIS for this proposed project include a detailed quantitative analysis on the impact of the MVP Project on near-surface groundwater flow and its potential impact on FERC project 2210-169 (the AEP pumpback project) and SML water levels. Furthermore, the SMLA also recommends that FERC ensure a hydrologist knowledgeable about near-surface groundwater flows in the Franklin and the associated counties is retained to quantitatively analyze and assess these issues before a decision about the MVP pipeline is made by FERC. The SMLA has filed a statement with the FERC detailing its concerns about this deficiency in the DEIS and its recommendations with FERC. This SMLA filing is available for public viewing in the FERC eLibrary as accession number 20161123-5028 for docket CP16-10. A copy is also available from the SMLA Office and any questions may be addressed to SMLA at TheOffice@SMLAssociation.org. The SMLA has about 1200 members and represents its members on issues that affect Smith Mountain Lake and its watershed. More information on SML water levels and other lake issues may be found on the SMLA website: www.smlassociation.org.

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