By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The financial backers of the controversial Constitution Pipeline have now dished out more than $1 million in community grants as they seek to build public support for a project that could entail eminent domain proceedings against local landowners.
An array of 20 local nonprofit organizations, fire departments and local government agencies collectively raked in $350,000 this week after a committee of community leaders and company representatives sifted through applications for funding and chose the ones that the company said had the most merit.
Among those reeling in the maximum award — $25,000 — was the Cobleskill Fire Department. The grant is intended to assist with its purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus for its firefighters to protect them on the job.
Cobleskill Fire Chief Rich Cooper told The Daily Star that while he understands many people have objections to the pipeline he believes the project — projected to cost nearly $700 million — is needed. And, he said, he wouldn’t object if one traversed his own property.
“We think it’s the safest way of transporting gas,” Cooper said. “Sure, they have incidents. But it’s more dangerous to move gas by rail or by trucks.”
Of the counties that would be impacted by the pipeline, Schoharie County drew the greatest sum of money — $97,000 in total — in the latest grant awards.
The Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave was approved for a $20,000 grant that will help pay for a cover for an outdoor amphitheater, the pipeline company said.
And $12,000 was handed out so the Richmondville Volunteer Emergency Squad could acquire a Power Pro Stretcher.
Robert Nied, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities and one of those affiliated with the grassroots opposition group Stop the Pipeline, said the project planners were using money to win support for the proposed 124-mile pipeline.
“I don’t think it’s going to be effective, because everybody can see what they’re doing,” Nied said. “They’re trying to grease the skids.”
Said Constitution’s project manager, Matt Swift: “Constitution Pipeline is committed to being a good neighbor by putting safety, environmental stewardship and community support at the heart of our operations.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will determine if the project is licensed. The agency is now gathering public comment on a draft environmental impact statement that determined while the pipeline would have some “adverse” impacts, they could be mitigated.
Stop the Pipeline held a meeting in Oneonta this week, urging local residents to sound off on the environmental statement. The project will also require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. FERC has scheduled a series of public comment meetings on the impact statement in late March and early April.
Other organizations getting pipeline grants include the Sidney Center Fire Department, which took in $25,000 to help it build a new fire station, and the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, which landed $15,000 to help it upgrade its web site.
Another $20,000 went to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office for an automatic external defibrillator unit.
In Chenango County, Constitution Pipeline funneled $25,000 to VFW Post 3529 in Afton for repairs to its building.
Constitution said it has set Sept. 30 as the deadline for applications for the next round of grants.