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October 24, 2012

Pipeline foes gear up for hearing

The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — An organizer of a grassroots group battling the proposed Constitution Pipeline said Tuesday that landowners opposed to the natural gas transmission system are expected to turn out en masse tonight for a hearing federal regulators are holding on the $750 million project.

What the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission bills as a scoping hearing is scheduled to be held from 7 to 10 p.m. tonight at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center Atrium, at 24 Market St., Oneonta.

Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, who helped start the opposition group Stop The Pipeline, said: “Scoping is the most important part of the project because it determines the blueprint for what they (FERC) are going to be studying and how they are going to be studying it.”

The 121-mile pipeline, taking gas from shale drilling operations in Susquehanna County, Pa., to Schoharie County, is designed to send enough gas to Boston and New York City markets to power some 3 million homes a day, according to project planners.

The engineers have made more than 100 recent revisions to the proposed primary and alternate routes after discussions with local landowners and officials, said Christopher Stockton, spokesman for the project.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Stockton revealed that the newly revised primary route now incorporates what had been alternate routes F, Q and R — all stretches in Schoharie County. “The fact we are making those changes is an indication we are listening” to landowners, Stockton said.

Stockton said the maps currently posted on the company’s web site have not yet been updated to reflect the new “tweaks and adjustments.” He said updated maps will be posted in about two weeks.

FERC, after holding three earlier scoping hearings, recently extended the deadline for public comment on the project to Nov. 9 after pipeline opponents said residents did not have sufficient time to review an alternative pathway, Route M, that hugs Interstate 88 and would bring the project into Otsego County. Tonight’s hearing was not scheduled until two weeks ago, after pipeline foes complained that no forum had been planned for either Delaware or Otsego counties.

The promoters of the project, Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas, both involved in gas drilling in Pennsylvania, have said the pipeline is “fully subscribed.” The pipeline would connect in Schoharie County with two existing pipelines.

Garti said local opposition to the project has multiplied since FERC required the pipeline planners to study placing the transmission system in the Interstate 88 corridor. That idea was promoted by Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie and Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller, a Democrat, all of whom said that pathway would impact fewer landowners.

However, Garti said, Route M ended up traversing the homes of some 600 landowners whose property had not been impacted by the companies’ preferred route.

She also said recent resolutions by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors and the Otsego County Board of Representatives in support of those counties deriving benefits from the pipeline has fueled the opposition.

“They did us the biggest favor in the world by passing these resolutions because it made their citizens of their counties — the citizens they are supposed to be representing — mad,” Garti said.

Garti said one way the project could be killed is for the pipeline planners to abandon the effort and not go forward with filing an application for a federal permit early next year, as scheduled. She said the fact that gas prices are near a historic low and that new estimates suggest there is far less Marcellus shale gas available than originally projected could doom the Constitution Pipeline.

But Stockton said the “abundant supply” of gas being extracted in Pennsylvania and the lower prices are “driving this project.”

“If you can’t get it to market, then it does not serve anyone,” he said, noting the application for a license will be filed in early 2013.

Local advocates of the pipeline have said they believe the “open end” transmission line could be tapped to provide natural gas to the Amphenol plant in Sidney, schools and government buildings, helping to achieve significant energy savings.