By Lisa Sorg
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, co-owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, will miss the spring deadline to begin tree-cutting in eastern North Carolina because a federal agency has denied their request for an extension.
In a letter dated today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told ACP, LLC that “after a thorough review of your request, we find that it would not offer an equal or greater level of protection.”
FERC granted ACP, LLC — the shell company created by the utilities for the project — a certificate to build the three-state, 600-mile pipeline on several conditions: One was that the utilities would minimize the harm to migratory birds by limiting tree-cutting to certain times of the year.
ACP, LLC had until March 31 to complete the timbering in North Carolina; otherwise, it would have to wait until November, the company’s lawyers told a federal judge earlier this month.
During a federal hearing in Elizabeth City on March 14, ACP, LLC asked Judge Terence Boyle to force two landowners to allow crews to begin timbering on their land, even though the company had yet to pay them for taking part of their property through eminent domain.
The landowners, Marvin Winstead, Jr. of Nash County, and Ron Locke of Halifax County, had not agreed on a price for the utilities to condemn part of their land. Nor had they allowed survey crews on their property, which effectively was delaying the start of a portion of the $6.5 billion project.
During the same hearing, attorneys for the landowners asked Dominion Energy witnesses if they had asked FERC for a deadline extension to cut trees. The witnesses replied that they had not.
It’s hard to know whether ACP, LLC was strategically trying to plead their case in court in a more controlled environment — before a conservative judge appointed by both President Bushes — rather than confront the uncertainty of petitioning FERC. Yet the next day, ACP, LLC did petition FERC for an extension.
Either way, the utilities lost on both counts. Boyle later ruled in favor of Winstead and Locke, saying ACP, LLC had not given them adequate opportunity to negotiate. And now FERC has nixed their request for an extension.