May 15, 2018

Wild Virginia Objects to Forest Closure Order for MVP

Wild Virginia has sent the Forest Service a letter objecting to an outrageous order closing portions of the Jefferson National Forest for many months.

In the letter to Joby Timm, Forest Supervisor of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Wild Virginia asserts the scope of the Emergency Closure order now in place far exceeds temporal limits that are necessary or proper to meet the stated purpose of avoiding “hazards associated with constructing the Mountain Valley Pipeline. . . .” and additional bases on which you have attempted to justify the scope of the closure order are not specified in the order, are invalid, and go beyond the scope of your authority. 

The Forest Service order prohibits the public from being present on large areas of the Forest through March 31, 2019 and presents the closure as a necessity to protect public safety when construction is occurring on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. However, the ban on use of our public lands far exceeds any appropriate boundaries and is not a rational or legally-supportable measure. The people must only be prohibited from entering and using our National Forest when and if a real threat exists.

Additional Forest Service statements reveal that the scope of the closure is in fact designed as much for the convenience of MVP and Forest Service officials as for the stated purpose. In an email, Supervisor Timm stated the “primary purpose of the closure order is to keep the public safe in the area surrounding the approved right-of-way when tree felling and construction that [sic] will occur.” (emphasis added). However, he then added a supposed justification for making the order effective for more than one year:

“Large infrastructure projects like the MVP Project often require construction schedules to shift (with appropriate authorization). Due to the uncertainty about schedule and the process involved in issuing multiple closure orders, I determined public safety would be best met through keeping the order in place continuously while Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC has the potential to be conducting activities to develop the MVP Project.”

The convenience of a company to cause disruption and destruction on the Forest must not be used as an excuse for impairing the public’s valid use of areas normally available to it. 

Also, the Forest Service will bear no significant burden if required to issue new or revised orders to accommodate changing construction schedules. Timm has so far issued five successive versions of the order between March 7 and April 7, 2018, a period of just 31 days. Given this record, it is ludicrous to cite “the process involved in issuing multiple closure orders” as a justification for the excessive length of your order.

Wild Virginia insists that Supervisor Timm revoke the current order and that any future order specify that the public’s use of roads, trails, or any other areas on the Forest is prohibited only during active construction or authorized uses by MVP.