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May 9, 2013

Pipeline firm eyes effects on wildlife

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — As they chart the course of the planned Constitution Pipeline, the developers of the $750 million natural gas transmission system are keeping an eye out for potential impacts on timber rattlesnake dens and bald eagle nests.

They are also gathering data on the Indiana bat, and planning to conduct surveys of Northern Monkshood, a plant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the Indiana bat as an endangered species and the Northern Monkshood as a threatened species.

The survey on wildlife and plants have been the topics of behind-the-scenes discussions by pipeline planners and federal and state officials, including a representative of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to a summary of a recent multi-agency conference call. That document was released this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that must sign off on the controversial project if it is to be built.

The pipeline, stretching more than 120 miles, would carry gas extracted in northeastern Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in Schoharie County. For much of what is now the primary route of the project, the line would cross wooded lands, numerous streams, fields, farms and hundreds of parcels of privately owned rural land. In Schoharie County, the current route would take it across Clapper Hollow State Forest in Schoharie County. State DEC officials have not yet said how they view that particular plan.

Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch organizer Tom Salo said his group — an arm of the Delaware-Otsego Audobon Society — is concerned about the potential impact the pipeline might have on what he called “an important bird area” that he said includes “an assemblage of forest species.”

The construction of the pipeline, he said, could cause forest fragmentation that would result in the introduction of predators and parasites that could have a destructive impact on the bird populations. The bird area in question, he said, is called Cannonsville/Steam Mill area, and stretches from Delaware County into both Chenango and Broome counties.

According to Audobon, bald eagles have been nesting in that area since 1988.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for the pipeline company, said it has yet to be determined whether there are any bald eagle nests within a half mile of the preferred route for the pipeline.

The memo released by FERC notes that pipeline planners met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials on April 17.

Stockton said that meeting “was a normal project briefing to give them an update on migratory birds and other environmental surveys currently underway.”

The project is being opposed by a grassroots group, Stop the Pipeline, which contends the gas transmission system is unnecessary, environmentally harmful and would create new dangers for those who would be living near it.

“There is no reason to destroy 2,000 acres of prime forest and farmland for a pipeline that could be located along an existing pipeline easement,” said Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, an organizer for Stop the Pipeline.

The pipeline company has said its route is the most efficient way to get gas to the New Engalnd and New York City markets and local counties would reap millions of dollars in new revenue once the pipeline infrastructure is in place. Supporters of the project include Amphenol executives, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.