By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will issue a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Constitution Pipeline “soon,” a spokeswoman for the agency said Friday.
Tamara Young-Allen, contacted by The Daily Star at FERC headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the agency will not announce in advance the date of the release of the document. However, she confirmed the release is imminent.
“Our staff is working on it,” she said.
The release of the draft EIS will open a 45-day public comment period that is expected to be critically important for both opponents of the proposed 124-mile natural gas pipeline and supporters of the project.
About 80 people, most of them owners of Delaware County parcels along the route of the project, gathered in downtown Oneonta this week to discuss their options for confronting the project. The meeting was sponsored by Stop the Pipeline, a grassroots group whose members are hoping to convince FERC to reject the pipeline planners’ application for a federal license.
“This represents an important milestone in the whole regulatory process,” said Robert Nied, of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, one of a coalition of groups fighting the transmission system that would send gas extracted in Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright.
Opponents of the pipeline contend the project is both unnecessary and would cause environmental damage to fields, forests and farmland. The pipe, they note, would run three to four feet underground in a region that has been prone to floods and would have to cut under streams in numerous locations.
Anne Marie Garti, an East Meredith attorney affiliated with Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, said approximately 75 percent of landowners in Delaware County whose property would be traversed by the pipeline have balked at signing easement agreements with the company.
“That’s a really damaging number for Constitution Pipeline, and shows that our landowners are united in opposing the theft of their land,” she said.
Christopher Stockton, spokesman for the project, has said the company has worked hard to accommodate landowner concerns by making numerous revisions to the pipeline’s preferred route. He has also said the company has cooperated with FERC and other government agencies that have reviewed the project, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When the final EIS is released, Young-Allen said her agency will determine if it is in the public interest to license the project. If it is approved by the FERC commissioners, those opposed to the decision are entitled to challenge it in the U.S. Court of Appeals, she said.
While FERC has sole say over whether the project can be licensed, the agency has been in contact with several state agencies in New York and Pennsylvania to learn more about potential impacts on aquatic and plant life and any sites with historical or archeological significance.
The project, if approved will also require several staging areas where equipment would be kept during the construction phase. Those lots are subject to local land use laws, and Nied advised landowners fighting the project to monitor local municipal boards that may have to review the staging areas.