- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s environmental regulators have approved a construction stormwater permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry natural gas southeast from the center of the state.

The permit covers stormwater discharge associated with the disturbance of approximately 2,500 acres (about 1,000 hectares) of land for the natural gas pipeline along with a compressor station, meter stations, access roads and interconnects, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. It gives the state agency inspection authority along the entire route in West Virginia including water crossings and uplands, the department said.

The 600-mile (965-kilometer) pipeline would extend almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) through five counties in West Virginia, then cross Virginia and bend through eastern North Carolina. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave project approval in October.

Lead developer Dominion Energy said it expects to get remaining approvals to begin full construction by spring and finish by late 2019. With federal authorization, upland tree felling and vegetation clearing in West Virginia has been under way for several days and will continue through March, spokesman Aaron Ruby said.

“In many cases, we’ve gone above and beyond regulatory requirements,” Ruby said.

Partners in the $5 billion project are Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Co. Gas.

Other approvals so far have been given by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Virginia State Water Control Board, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and state historic preservation offices in all three states, Ruby said.

They expect to get the few remaining needed approvals to begin full construction by early spring, Ruby said. Those include a water quality permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a state erosion and sediment control permits from Virginia and North Carolina, he said.

Environmental groups including Appalachian Mountain Advocates have opposed the pipeline, saying it will cut through mountains, fragment forest habitats, disrupt wildlife and provide an incentive to increase hydraulic fracturing for natural gas throughout the region.

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