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Pipeline Bombshell Part 2:  Worse Than We Thought – 50 Landslides Show Mountain Valley Pipeline Contractor Is REALLY Incompetent

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by Jon Sokolow

It’s worse than we thought.  MUCH WORSE!

Last week, we revealed that the contractor hired to construct the Mountain Valley Pipeline is so incompetent that even Dominion Energy says so.  Yes, THAT Dominion Energy.

The revelations regarding the incompetence of Precision Pipeline, LLC, the Wisconsin firm hired to build the MVP, came in a lawsuit that Dominion has been waging for the past three years in federal court in Richmond.  The suit, which is expected to go to trial in October, is over the work Precision did while building portions of Dominion’s Appalachian Gateway Project in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. That pipeline was completed in 2012, but Precision’s incompetence caused problems long afterwards.

The readership for our “Pipeline Bombshell” article is approaching 30,000, largely the result of sharing on social media.  That tells you how much outrage there is in Virginia over the fact that Mountain Valley Pipeline hired an incompetent firm to do its work. And that the Commonwealth of Virginia is doing nothing to stop them.

The crux of our story was that Precision’s work — on a 30-inch diameter, 55-mile pipeline, (far smaller than the 42 inch diameter, 300 mile proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline) — was so bad that it led to 13 landslides.  Yes, landslides.

Those terrifying details were included in an expert report that we published last week for the first time.

But it turns out things were far worse than we thought. 

There were more than 50 landslides!

Yes, >50 landslides.

In a 55-mile pipeline project

With a 30-inch diameter.

In non-mountainous terrain.

The expert report we published last week only looked at 13 landslides because those were the only ones that the experts had reviewed as of the date of their report.

But it turns out that there were a total of more than 50 landslides – which includes larger landslides as well as smaller scale landslides, called “slips” in the industry. 

That’s an average of one landslide, or slip, every mile.

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline is 300 miles long.  Do the math.

These new details of Precision’s work on the Appalachian Gateway Project are included in a second expert report – published here for the first time – from an engineering firm hired by Dominion’s attorneys, McGuireWoods, LLP (aka, “Virginia’s shadow government“).

As this new report, known as the Gentry Report, notes, the more than 50 landslides or slips occurred in 2013 and 2014 – up to two years after construction of the pipeline was complete.  They happened because of shoddy work done by Precision, largely having to do with the use of excessive amounts of wood chips in the fill material.  But the problems were not discovered until long after construction was complete.

To make matters worse, Precision refused to come back to fix these more than 50 landslides.  As a result, Dominion hired a second set of contractors to repair the damage.

To make matters even WORSE, Precision also failed to restore the Right of Way after completing the project, so Dominion had to do additional work, including “re-seeding, applying lime and mulch as well as removing erosion control devices (‘ECD’s’) from the ROW.”

In all, Dominion spent $8.5 million to fix the mess left by Precision.

Precision also caused damages to township roads it used during construction – and then refused to repair them.

And then there’s the tale of Mrs. Young’s driveway.

The pipeline plans called for boring under Mrs. Young’s driveway, which would have spared damage to the driveway.  But, for whatever reason, Precision took it upon itself to “open cut” across Mrs. Young’s driveway instead, effectively destroying it.

And then Precision walked off the job! 

Based on this record alone, it is sheer insanity to allow Precision Pipeline to work another day on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.  In only the first few weeks of this massive project, the evidence of Precision Pipeline’s incompetence abounds, as shown here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Nearly every day, there are new photos and tales of horror on a new Facebook page created specifically to catalog the damage being inflicted by  MVP’s construction.

The record is characterized by one word – mud.  As in mudslides. Mud blocking roads. Mud flowing into streams. Mud clogging waterways.

The muddy mess has gotten so bad that several weeks ago, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was forced to intercede in an incident that DEQ called “clearly unacceptable,” leading to a temporary construction halt  at a site in Franklin County.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of thousands of people who depend for their drinking water from sources fed by the mud-laden catastrophe unfolding in southwest Virginia watch in horror as state officials seem indifferent.

When he ran for governor, Ralph Northam famously said — over and over again — that science would dictate whether the Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast Pipelines would be built.  Well the science, more particularly water, gravity — and mud — is in.  And the results are not pretty.

As the expert report we published last week, noted:

“Knowing that there was a risk of landslides developing, Precision failed to employ earthwork methods in accordance with industry standards….Landslides occurred due to failure to install subsurface drains in high-risk or seepage areas, failure to provide adequate surface water controls, failure to remove wood chips and other organic debris from fill slope areas, failure to properly construct ESC features, and failure to adequately compact fill.”

Ralph Northam and those around him seem to believe that this is all a big game. For example, last week, Northam’s communications director, Brian Coy, was caught on a hot mic and on video trying to cow a female journalist into not asking questions on the pipelines.  Governor Northam, sitting right there, visibly laughed. Coy then went on to claim that grassroots pipeline opponents were “not acting in good faith.”  Two days later, when asked about this incident on another radio show, Northam denied knowing anything about it.  As Blue Virginia noted, Northam “blatantly, flagrantly, demonstrably” lied – not once but twice.

It may be that the men running our state government – Ralph Northam, his chief of staff Clark Mercer, his Communications Director Brian Coy and his Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler (Mercer’s business partner in a company with a very troubling name – but that’s a story for another day) simply don’t care about the woes being inflicted on our fellow Virginians. They may be perfectly content to turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence of the incompetence of the contractor selected to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

But two things are true.

Number one, the pipeline resistance, largely led by women — strong, courageous, peaceful and persistent women — is growing and getting stronger every day.  At this writing, three water protectors just chained themselves to equipment, blocking work at a pipeline site.  The “good-old boys” at the top may not want to listen to these women.  But eventually they will have no choice.

Number two, Ralph Northam and his boys don’t have the final say. Virginia has a citizen board known as the State Water Control Board (SWCB) that has statutory authority to safeguard Virginia’s waters. The SWCB has directed a new round of public comments on both the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines. DEQ recently extended that comment period until June 15, not so ironically because of “technical difficulties” with the DEQ website.  The Board members should be pouring over the expert reports produced by Dominion in its lawsuit with Precision Pipeline and all of the other evidence that is piling up. It is all publicly available.

And then there is the ongoing battle in the courts.

Meanwhile, the mud continues to flow and the environmental damage continues to be done.  And unless Virginia changes direction soon, Ralph Northam will have earned the moniker that some have given him: #MudSlideRalph.  In that event, Northam may well go down in history much like the man in Pete Seeger’s famous song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.
Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a
Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re
Waist deep in the Big Muddy!
And the big fool says to push on!

Hopefully the good doctor is not a “big fool.”

As one of Northam’s most vocal environmental supporters and biggest donors — now clearly growing more frustrated with Northam — noted in an op-ed this morning, “many of [Northam’s] actions have given conservationists little to be excited about.”

Today would be a good day for Gov. Northam to change that perception.

Before the mud sucks him down into the “Big Muddy.”