By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is urging federal regulators to hold off on approving the controversial Constitution Pipeline project until all parcels along the 122-mile stretch are studied for potential impact on waterways.
“Prior to making a permit decision, the USACE will need field delineations of all parcels proposed to be impacted by the project,” Kevin Bruce, the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a letter last week.
Bruce added: “The USACE respectfully requests that FERC also defer a decision on the project until all parcels are delineated.”
FERC is the agency that will decide whether the pipeline can be constructed, and, if approved, determine the pathway it should take to send shale gas extracted in northeastern Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in Schoharie County town of Wright. However, the pipeline must also obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to have the project cross streams and wetlands.
One of the problems faced by the developers of the Constitution Pipeline is that scores of landowners have refused to allow the company’s land surveyors to access their property. According to its latest monthly filing with FERC, just 61 percent of the landowners have given consent for the land surveys.
Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Partners, one of the companies behind the $750 million project, downplayed the significance of the letter from the Army Corps of Engineers official.
“Ultimately, it is up to the FERC to determine whether or not it chooses to adopt the recommendations submitted by the Corps with respect to wetlands and water body crossing “ Stockton told The Daily Star in an emailed response to the newspaper’s inquiry.
Stockton added: “We have and will continue to work closely with the Corps to address any issues or concerns that agency may have.”
The Army Corps’ letter was warmly received by the grassroots opposition group Stop the Pipeline, which contends the natural gas transmission system would endanger the region’s natural resources and attract shale gas hydrofracking operations to set up near it.
One of the organizers for that group, Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith said the Corps’ concerns pose a significant new obstacle for the pipeline.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, we are not powerless, and this is not a done deal,” Garti said. “It is particularly refreshing to have the support of a federal agency, like the Army Corps of Engineers, in this environmental review.”
Bruce, reached by The Daily Star on Monday, said gaining access to the parcels in question is not necessarily crucial to coming up with an inventory of the waterways that could be impacted by the project, because high-tech devices could be used to help delineate those water bodies.
But he added that a walking the land is far more preferable.
“Our stance is we would like to get those areas delineated on the ground in order to be as accurate as possible,” he said.
Many of the landowners who have balked at the surveys have told The Daily Star that they resent the fact the pipeline company could end up with eminent domain rights that would empower it to build the pipeline on their property against their will.
The pipeline developers have said the system would carry enough gas to power 3 million homes a day in the Boston and New York City metropolitan areas.