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Opinion/Editorial: Mitigation of pipeline is tenuous

Opinion/Editorial: Mitigation of pipeline is tenuous

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Hiking trails in Albemarle County will not mitigate the effects of a pipeline in Nelson, in Buckingham, in Augusta. Not directly, it won’t. Not in a way that helps the people affected.

Albemarle’s planned Biscuit Run Park will receive $5 million in pipeline “mitigation” money from an agreement between the state and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC. The influx of funds is welcome; the park will be greatly enjoyed; and we don’t blame the county Board of Supervisors for taking the money.

But we do think the money could be better spent. It should go directly to the counties affected, and specifically to reduce, repair or remediate direct impacts from the pipeline in those localities.

Only the slimmest of threads ties an Albemarle park to the broad environmental impact of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The ACP doesn’t even pass through Albemarle — but that wasn’t a criterion for distribution of the money, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Joshua Saks said.

However, he said: “The project is nearby counties where the pipeline goes, and certainly this mitigation will allow for the people who are impacted by the pipe to still avail themselves of the outdoor opportunities.”

Folks in Nelson aren’t going to be interested in driving to Albemarle to go hiking if a pipeline leak fouls their drinking water or pastureland or an explosion takes out their house.

From a much broader perspective, using the money to protect habitat in Albemarle does make some sense. In that case, the park becomes a way for the state to offset environmental damage. Even though the protected landscape is miles distant from the clear-cut forests and potentially eroded stream crossings of the ACP, it does serve the larger purpose of saving similar habitat.

Virginia funneled the money through the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to be used for forest conservation and water quality protection.

And, as we said, we don’t blame the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for taking the money.

The Biscuit Run property was acquired by Virginia and had been expected to become a state park. But the state did not fund the park; instead, it offered to lease the land to the county. Supervisor Rick Randolph said the board knew early on that the mitigation money would represent the only financial aid it could expect from Richmond.

“…The board wrestled with this, given the fact that it was tied into Dominion and the Atlantic Pipeline project,” he said. “At the end of the day, though, we recognized that if we didn’t take [the money], it was going elsewhere.”

Albemarle therefore will benefit from others’ woes. While the pipeline is being driven across the mountains, rivers and valleys of its sister jurisdictions, Albemarle will be able to proceed with a major new local park.

Indeed, we hope that neighboring residents do come to visit Biscuit Run. They might as well; in a very real sense, they are paying for it.

Better yet would have been for state officials to have come up with ways of sending the money directly to the communities affected — or at least holding it in escrow until more direct applications could be found.

Sooner or later, big or small, there likely will be some kind of accident along the route of the pipeline. That’s when mitigation money truly will be needed.

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