Atlantic Coast Pipeline contractor may have conflict in Southampton

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, July 15, 2017

In late May, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality awarded a state contract to the Blacksburg-based environmental contracting firm EEE Consulting Inc. The purpose was to evaluate Dominion Power’s erosion and sediment control plans for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline to stay in compliance with state laws. However, some environmentalists are now alleging that the firm may be in violation of the contract’s conflict of interest clause due to its existing business dealings with Dominion in Southampton County.

A writer for DeSmog, an environmental activist blog, made allegations in late June that EEE is the same firm that was recently hired by Dominion as a consultant for the power company’s two proposed microwave towers in Southampton County. To support his argument, the writer cited concerns raised by Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for the ethics watchdog Public Citizen.

Holman is quoted in the blog as having suggested that EEE’s existing business relationship with Dominion might incentivize them to issue findings in favor of Dominion, with the hope of securing future contracts with the company.

County Administrator Mike Johnson confirmed on July 7 to The Tidewater News that it was his understanding that EEE had been retained by Dominion to prepare an environmental screening to determine if installation of the two proposed towers would have any potential significant impacts on environmental or cultural resources in the county, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

One of the proposed towers would be located on the existing Boykins Substation property, located at 31017 Meherrin Road. The second tower proposed would be located at the existing Southampton Substation at 30134 General Thomas Highway in Franklin, approximately 2,600 feet west of the highway’s intersection with Delaware Road.

A public hearing on the two towers took place at the Southampton Planning Commission’s meeting on Thursday.

According to the conflict of interests clause in EEE’s contract with the DEQ, EEE is prohibited from having any direct contractual, financial or business interest that would conflict in a material manner with the duties and obligations specified under their contract, or would create the appearance of impropriety. The contract further mandates that EEE promptly disclose any such interests that may be incompatible with the interests of the Commonwealth to the DEQ.

Ann Regn, the DEQ’s director of public information and outreach, said she believed the department was aware of EEE’s connection with Dominion in Southampton County at the time they awarded the contract. Regn added that Dominion had no involvement in the DEQ’s awarding of the contract to EEE, nor will they have any role in payment for EEE’s contracted services concerning the pipeline.

However, in response to repeated queries on the matter, the DEQ is reassessing information related to EEE’s existing contracts with Dominion as well as other affiliates of Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC and Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC. Regn said that the DEQ’s procurement department recently sent a letter to EEE asking the company to list all of its employees and contracts by July 20 so they can make a more detailed assessment on whether there are any conflicts.

“Even though they [EEE] have signed the contract stating that there is no conflict of interest, since it’s been brought up, they’re [the DEQ] doing a second review,” she said.

The final determination on the adequacy of Dominion’s erosion and sediment control plans and the final approval of those plans will likewise be a decision made solely by the DEQ. Regn said that EEE will only make recommendations to the DEQ on the adequacy of Dominion’s plans for compliance with regulatory requirements.

Max Bartholomew, Dominion’s director of state and local affairs for eastern Virginia, confirmed that EEE had been retained as a consultant for the microwave tower project in Southampton County, but said that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was not solely a Dominion project. Dominion is a 48 percent partner in the company Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC.

He added that he believed EEE was on the DEQ’s list of preferred vendors for environmental consulting services, and that it was not unusual for the DEQ to outsource certain components of projects such as the pipeline to private contractors with the required expertise, given the agency’s relatively small staff.

A representative of EEE Consulting declined to comment on the matter and referred all questions concerning the company’s involvement with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to the DEQ. Per the terms of the contract, EEE is prohibited from communicating directly with either Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC or the public unless previously authorized to do so in writing by the DEQ.