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Local News

June 16, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Pipeline will stir debate for weeks to come

Things normally slow down in the news business over the dog days of summer, although we don't see any letup ahead, largely because of an upcoming flurry of activity involving the proposed $750 million Constitution Pipeline.

The steel pipe, which would be 30 inches in diameter, would stretch 121 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the Schoharie County town of Wright.

Along the tentative route for the controversial project, some 1,300 landowners would be potentially impacted, if the developers win approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The formal permit application for the pipeline is expected to go to FERC next January. The agency is expected to make a determination by November 2013. If the permit is granted, the pipeline could be in operation by March 2015.

If approved, the pipe would carry 650 million standard cubic feet of natural gas per day to a terminus in Wright. From there, it would be channeled into two existing pipelines, one feeding the Boston market and the other the New York City region, according to Matthew Swift, the chief project manager.

For those monitoring the project, here are some dates for "open houses" that the project planners will host to answer questions from land owners and other interested parties.

An open house will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 19 in Chenango County, although the venue for the program has not yet been finalized. The next open house will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Delaware County on July 25. Again, the planners says they have not yet honed in on a venue for that event. Stay tuned.

For Schoharie County residents, an open house will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 26 at the Best Western hotel in Cobleskill.

Project engineers and construction experts will be on hand to answer questions from members of the public. But the events will not be forums, said Chris Stockton, the spokesman for the Constitution Pipeline, a joint venture of Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas.

On June 27, the pipeline planners will be making a presentation to the Schoharie Town Board. That meeting is expected to be similar to one I attended Wednesday night in the Schoharie County town of Summit.

Schoharie Town Supervisor Gene Milone said Friday he was pleased to learn this week that -- as reported by The Daily Star -- that FERC has directed the pipeline planners to consider routing the project along the I-88 corridor. Milone noted the Constitutional Pipeline will have to comply with that directive because FERC has the power to squash the project.

At the Summit meeting, some residents voiced concern about the potential authority of the Constitution Pipeline to acquire property from uncooperative landowners' through eminent domain proceedings.

Swift and a lobbyist for the Constitution Pipeline, John Faso, the 2006 GOP nominee for New York governor, assured the gathering that those drawing the route want to avoid having the line run close to homes. Faso said any eminent domain proceeding would likely be limited to determining the amount of money the land owner should be paid for an easement, and would stop short of having the company try to take title of the property.

In a rural area, where there is plenty of wiggle room for moving the pipe, he said, "It would be astonishing if we went to try to take a house."

Said Swift: "It's very feasible to not route close to a house." He also said FERC would likely reject a route which had the pipe running next to houses when other alternatives were available.

Stockton, the project spokesman, said the planners had not initially given strong consideration to the I-88 corridor because they wanted to avoid potential environmental impacts to the Susquehanna River and were trying to avoid getting near the population centers in close proximity to the highway. In some places, he noted, the highway runs near hills, a potential complication when trying to install long sections of pipe in areas with limited space for construction equipment.

Readers who want to track every correspondence and document submitted to FERC regarding the project may do so by registering on the FERC website, www.ferc.gov. Once you set up an account, you can ask to keep tabs on all correspondence for the project, whose registration code is PF12-9.

Joe Mahoney can be reached at jmahoney @thedailystar.com or 547-9493.

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