By Joe Mahoney Staff writer
The Daily Star
---- — SIDNEY — Working with the planners of the Constitution Pipeline, an executive with a local utility company announced Tuesday that the firm — Leatherstocking Gas Company — has ambitious plans to connect not only the Amphenol Aerospace factory to natural gas supplies but several other communities in the region as well.
“We intend to pipe this entire area,” said Michael German, Leatherstocking’s chief executive officer. The company is jointly owned by Corning Natural Gas and Mirabito Holdings.
Leatherstocking’s plans hinge on whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves Constitution’s application to construct a 124-mile pipeline that would send natural gas produced in northeastern Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright.
Constitution’s project manager, Matt Swift, said his company is providing Leatherstocking with four taps that will supply Leatherstocking and its customers with gas that would flow to the region through the pipeline. The only tap location that has been finalized is the one that will feed gas to the Amphenol plant, both German and Swift said.
There are plans to also provide gas to residents and businesses in Sidney, Bainbridge, Delhi and possibly Franklin and Unadilla, German said.
“We’re going to go where we’re wanted and where they want gas service,” German said when asked if his company would consider piping natural gas into any Otsego County communities that now lack gas service. He noted Oneonta already has gas service available.
He said Leatherstocking already has franchise agreements in 10 municipalities within Delaware, Otsego, Chenango and and Broome counties. In order for development of the distribution system to move forward, the state Public Service Commission must grant certificates of public convenience to Leatherstocking, German said.
The feeder pipeline coming off the Constitution tap to Amphenol will be funded with a $750,000 grant that the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency awarded last month to Leatherstocking. The feeder pipeline would provide gas both to Amphenol’s existing plant in Sidney as well as its new building scheduled to open later this year.
Approximately 1,000 workers are scheduled to begin working in the new plant in June, while Amphenol’s administrative staff will begin occupying the building in May, said Rick Aiken, the general manager for Amphenol Aerospace.
Aiken said Amphenol has occupied its current plant since 1925. The building was initially powered with coal transported from Pennsylvania. If the pipeline project is approved, he said, Pennsylvania will once again become the source of Amphenol’s power, but “it will be carried by the Constitution Pipeline instead of the railroad.”
The plant that is about to open has a 30,000-gallon propane tank sitting behind it, said Aiken, adding, “I am hoping it is very temporary.”
The annual cost saving for Amphenol from switching to natural gas has been estimated at more than $1 million, Amphenol representatives said. That will help put the company in better position to grow and protect the worker payroll it has now, they said.
The pipeline project is facing intense opposition from a grassroots group called Stop the Pipeline, whose members have showered FERC with comments protesting the transmission system and characterizing it as causing far more environmental damage than the company has acknowledged.
The resistance to the project has been particularly acute in Delaware County, where about 70 percent of the landowners whose parcels would be crossed by the pipeline have not signed agreements granting Constitution Pipeline a permanent easement to the properties in question.
FERC last month issued a draft environmental impact statement, in which the agency’s staff concluded its adverse environmental impacts could be lessened through various mitigation measures that have been prescribed.
Among the recent public comments sent to FERC in recent days was one from Mark Archambault of Masonville, expressing concern that he would be unable to obtain a mortgage for his property if the pipeline traverses his parcel. He said representatives of three banks advised him he would not be approved for a mortgage if the pipeline crosses his property.
Not all expressing concerns with the project’s impacts want to stop it.
In a comment filed Tuesday with FERC, Lisa Kuehnie, a nutrient management planner with the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District, urged the agency to reroute the pipeline so it does not cross the Stanton Family Farm in Middleburgh. The 1200-acre dairy farm is the largest farm in the county.
Kuehnie said the project would interfere with the farm’s expansion plans, and ability to produce feed for the 925 heads of livestock, including 450 dairy cows. She also said the pipeline could threaten the farm’s ability to stay in compliance with state environmental permits.
On Tuesday, the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, an environmental group aligned with Stop the Pipeline, urged FERC to update the impact statement by including plans to deter “malicious actions” against the project, including cyber terrorism. Such planing would help ensure that “acts of deliberate tampering and sabotage against the pipeline infrastructure would not result in catastrophic impacts on adjacent communities and eco-systems,” the Richmondville-based group said in the filing.
Among those attending the Amphenol announcement was James Eisel, the chairman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors. He said the extension of gas service in the county would perk up the local economy and potentially lead to job creation as businesses get access to cheaper energy.
“It would be fantastic if we could move that gas down into our Delhi and Stamford area, and into that whole Route 10 corridor,” said Eisel, who is the Harpersfield town supervisor. “It’s just unbelievable what this could do for our area. I’m a firm believer that if you can lower costs for businesses you will get new jobs. That’s the name of the game. We need more jobs.”