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March 10, 2014

Local pipeline construction stirred controversy in 1964

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The Daily Star

---- — Unlike the proposed Constitution Pipeline project, planned to bring natural gas from northeast Pennsylvania through our region to a terminal in Schoharie County, another pipeline project built from Watkins Glen to Selkirk generated considerably less local controversy 50 years ago.

What was then called Texas Eastern Transmission, based in Houston, was building an eight-inch pipeline to carry propane across our upstate region and looked to build it through a small section of city-owned property in Oneonta. Until Texas Eastern reached this area, there had been no local controversy along the path of the proposed route. That all changed, and the negotiations between Oneonta and Texas Eastern dominated the news between March and June 1964.

Texas Eastern appeared before the Oneonta Public Service Board on Tuesday, March 10, to seek a right-of-way across some property on Oneonta’s watershed on upper East Street.

“Characterizing Texas Eastern Transmission as a ‘bunch of marauders,’ Oneonta’s Public Service Board flatly rejected ‘in its present form’ the pipeline firm’s bid to secure a right of way across about 2,800 feet of city owned property Tuesday night,” The Oneonta Star reported the next day.

“Key to the rejection was the charge by Commissioner Melville Morris that the firm, utterly without permission from the city, had invaded the property and had cut down trees ranging from 1½ to 12 inches in diameter.”

Morris grilled Wayne Hook, Texas Eastern’s land acquisition agent. Morris asked if the company had eminent domain on the property, the right to survey the land, why the trees were cut and who gave the company permission to cut them.

Hook did not know, regarding each question asked, and said, “I wasn’t here then,” apologizing for the firm’s action with the trees.

“I think you are a bunch of marauders up to now,” Norris replied.

“You told us at the last (special) meeting about the line between Watkins Glen and Selkirk,” Morris added, “and you told us you wanted to bring it to our attention because you didn’t want publicity.”

“I think it needs publicity,” Morris concluded. 

An offer to the city of $1,000 for land easements was rejected at the time. Texas Eastern hired local attorney John K. Dunn to represent them for continued easement negotiations with the city.

The Public Service Board’s decision on the right-of-way would have eventually needed approval by Oneonta’s Common Council. The thoughts of one Alderman, Cecil Mathews, summed up most city officials sentiments after he stated, “I don’t want it across our watershed, period.”

The land in question was between the city’s lower and upper reservoirs, as the proposed pipeline would pass over a gravity flow creek between the two bodies of water.

The Star reported that compromises were taking shape during April 1964, and an overall question arose as to whether the city or Texas Eastern had the legal upper hand in this struggle. While the Public Service Board felt that they had it, city attorney Harold C. Vrooman suggested that the city reach the most favorable compromise possible with Texas Eastern, since in his opinion the firm could simply condemn the property to put their pipeline through. Among the compromises were more compensation for land easements and addressing safety concerns. By April 25, it was reported that the offer had been raised to $4,000.

Oneonta took the standoff to the New York State Board of Water Resources for review in hopes that the state would stand behind the city’s position. That agency then referred it to the state Conservation Department in May.

The battle was nearing an end in late May, as the Star reported on May 26 that both sides were making concessions.

“The main concession from the city: the pipeline will go through.”

“Mayor Albert S. Nader said Monday ‘we might as well be realistic. We can’t stop them so we should make the best deal possible. We sure aren’t going to let it go to condemnation.’”

A contract was signed with Texas Eastern on June 12, 1964, and the city received $7,200 for the land easements.

Texas Eastern announced during the period of compromise that they intended to establish a terminal in our area that could lead to employment of 15 to 20 people and additional service personnel for distributing propane products. Construction of the gas distribution center alongside state Route 205 in the Town of Oneonta was announced on Oct. 8, 1964.

This weekend: Oneonta’s first “Chem Congress” was held in March 1939.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.