By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — DELHI — An overwhelming majority of Delaware County town supervisors came out in favor of a resolution Wednesday that contends the construction of the Constitution Pipeline through eight towns in the county would have a positive economic impact.
About 20 pipeline opponents attended the county Board of Supervisors meeting where the statement of support for the project drew 17 votes in favor and only three against it.
Hancock Town Supervisor Samuel Rowe Jr. said in regions of Pennsylvania, with natural gas development businesses and residents are experiencing strong growth in the economy.
“When you see what we’re missing out on, it’s disgusting,” Rowe said before casting his vote in favor of the resolution. “It’s just phenomenal, the economic boom that is going on there.”
He also said it is likely that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will certify the Constitution Pipeline, which is being proposed by two major players in the gas industry, Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas.
Referring to protesters — some of whom clutched anti-pipeline placards outside the county office building as he spoke — Rowe said: “They (federal regulators) don’t for the little signs and all the other stuff. It’s science.”
Voting against the resolution were three Democrats: Meredith Town Supervisor Keitha Capouya, Kortwright Town Supervisor Steven C. Bower and Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis J. Valente.
One day earlier, Valente had told The Daily Star that he was leaning towards voting in favor of the resolution because he did not see its wording as a direct endorsement of the controversial project.
However, after listening to the tenor of Wednesday’s debate and going over the language of the resolution, he said he determined that it amounted to a strong statement of support for the project.
“I’m going to hold to my promise to not support the pipeline and not oppose the pipeline,” he said later Wednesday. “I want to keep an open mind on this.”
He said he was also concerned that once the natural gas transmission system infrastructure is put into place, “it greatly increases the probability of fracking in this neighborhood.”
If federal regulators approve the project next year, and the pipeline that would run 121 miles from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County goes through Delaware County, Valente said he will strongly push for gas from it to be distributed to local customers.
The resolution stated in part that the board favors “access to the proposed Constitution Pipeline to establish distribution lines for the benefit of businesses, residents and communities.”
The chairman of the board, Harpersfield Town Supervisor James Eisel Sr., said having the Constitution Pipeline cutting through the county would amount to a “win-win” for local residents because of the potential for some of its gas to be channeled to local residents, businesses and institutions.
He said the county is “on hard times” and economic development is sorely needed. In addition, he argued, natural gas is far cleaner than other types of fossil fuels and sends “less toxins into the air.” He noted that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently argued that increasing reliance on natural gas while decreasing the use of home heating oil would improve air quality.
On that note, Capouya interjected and pointed out that Bloomberg is opposed to having the pipeline within New York City’s vast upstate watershed, a portion of which is in Delaware County.
County Budget Director Bruce Dolph said local school systems and governments could save significant amount of money if the pipeline facilities their ability to convert their heating systems to natural gas. He said county government alone would see an annual savings of about $90,000 while the Delhi schools would be able to cut costs to the tune of $40,000.
A similar resolution last week was supported by the Otsego County Board of Representatives, although that panel favors an alternative pipeline pathway, dubbed Route M, that would place about 30 miles of the transmission system in Otsego County. That route is essentially competing with the so-called primary route favored by the Constitution Pipeline planners. The FERC not only determines if the project will be constructed but also the route it will take as well as the precise location of a compressor station that has been proposed for Schoharie County.
Prior to the resolution vote, several members of the audience raised their hands and insisted that they be allowed to make statements. Eisel, however, said they could not offer their input during the meeting.
Sidney Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy, an enthusiastic supporter of the pipeline and shale gas development, suggested many opponents of hydraulic fracturing are only part-time residents of the region. He said he tells them: “If you want to discourage fracking, ban gas in New York City, where your other house is.”
He and other pro-pipeline supervisors suggested the project could provide natural gas for the Amphenol plant and thus help preserve hundreds of jobs at the manufacturing plant located in Sidney.
Capouya said she was convinced that if the Constitution Pipeline is permitted by FERC, it would lead to the energy industry bringing drilling operations to the county. She also said that building the pipeline would involve blasting operations that would likely have harmful environmental consequences.
So far, the FERC has held three public scoping hearings on the project, two of which - in Schoharie and Afton - were dominated by pipeline opponents. The FERC has scheduled a fourth scoping hearing for Oct. 24 in Oneonta.