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May 30, 2013

DEC puts limits on pipeline construction

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Asserting its jurisdiction over New York’s natural resources, the state Department of Environmental Conservation told federal regulators in a new filing that running the Constitution Pipeline across streams can only occur in a narrow time window because of potential impacts to fish populations.

The filing, coming less than two weeks before the projected date when the pipeline will submit its application for a federal license to build the $750 million system, creates a potential significant hurdle for the planned construction timetable for the 120-mile project.

The pipeline planners have said they expect to have the system operating by March 2015, with construction beginning in the third quarter of 2014.

The only allowable fishery construction window for designated waters is June 15 through Sept. 30, a DEC lawyer, Patricia J. Desnoyers, told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a lengthy filing this week.

She said the proposed pipeline will cross 73 known protected class streams, along with an additional seven protected class streams containing trout.

“NYSDEC maintains strict adherence to in-stream work windows, therefore, all stream crossings, including temporary or permanent installation bridges and pipelines, must comply with appropriate warm and cold-water fishery windows,” Denoyers wrote in the 38-page filing.

While FERC will decide whether a license is awarded to the pipeline planners, the state DEC could have a significant impact on the proposed pathway, which includes taking the pipeline across state forestland as well as the dozens of streams cited by Desnoyers.

“All crossings of streams and wetland must be confirmed with NYSDEC for determinations of regulatory jurisdiction,” the DEC lawyer noted.

An organizer of the grassroots opposition group Stop the Pipeline, Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, praised the DEC for advocating for the protection of the streams.

“DEC has an obligation to the people of the state of New York to protect our air, water and wildlife,” Garti said. “We are proud they told the pipeline company that it cannot speed up construction by breaking the rules. Our resources are more important than their short-term profits.”

Another pipeline opponent, Robert Nied, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, said, “We’re glad the DEC stepped up and held the Constitution Pipeline to the standards.” 

He said the DEC filing represents “a very signficant obstacle” for the project.

Backing the pipeline project is a partnership of three publicly traded energy companies — Williams, Cabot Oil and Gas and Piedmont Gas.

Asked if investors will be notified of the DEC concerns, a spokesman for the pipeline project, Christopher Stockton, said his company anticipates that the construction timetable will remain on schedule.

Stockton, in an email to The Daily Star, stated: “Constitution Pipeline continues to be actively engaged with NYDEC and the company is aware of the agency’s preferences related to stream crossings. Constitution Pipeline is committed to continuing our dialogue with the agency to better understand the agency’s concerns, while exploring all options to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts.”

Stockton added: “Input from agencies like NYDEC is an important part of the FERC pre-filing process. We are optimistic that by continuing to work closely with the NYDEC, ultimately we can develop a mutually acceptable pipeline construction strategy.”

Garti said that with the new DEC filing the pipeline planners have no hope of completing the project in the timetable that they have provided. She called on Williams, Cabot and Piedmont to announce that the pipeline will fail to meet its in service target date.

In the filing with FERC, the DEC lawyer also pointed out that her agency would want a construction technique known as horizontal directional drilling used in boring under streams. 

“NYSDEC does not support the use of open-trenching, regardless of method, as an installation technique for pipelines; wet-trenching in particular is strongly opposed,” Desnoyers wrote.

She also said pipelines should be buried at least 6 feet below a stream bottom. The agency, she added, has jurisdiction of up to 50 feet of stream bank width along protected streams.

Desnoyers also said that the Constitution Pipeline planners should consult with state foresters regarding such invasive specie as the Emerald Ash borer, an insect threatening ash trees across New York. The insects have been confirmed in the proximity of the proposed pipeline route in northern Delaware County, about 2 miles south of the village of Unadilla in Otsego County.

The pipeline company projects that the FERC will issue a decision in the summer of 2014 on whether the project will be authorized.

The company says it has been responsive to the concerns of state agencies and private property owners and made significant alternations to the original preferred route as the result of the input it has received from the public as well as from state and federal agencies.

Advocates for the project say the pipeline could become a source for natural gas that could meet the energy needs of local schools, health care facilities and businesses. Critics say that after the pipeline company acquires eminent domain authority, the gas it will carry from northeastern Pennsylvania could be converted to liquified natural gas and then shipped overseas.

The nation’s top pipeline regulator, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a commission member since 2006, is resigning from his seat on the powerful panel, the Obama administration said Wednesday.