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July 16, 2013

FERC glitch irks pipeline foes

Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

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COOPERSTOWN — A Cobleskill-based environmental group is asking federal regulators to extend by one month the deadline for the public to file for intervenor status in the license application filed by the developers of the proposed Constitution Pipeline.
 
The delay is needed, according to Robert Nied, the director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, because the software used for intervenor status requests on the Federal Energy regulatory Commission’s web site is incompatible with one of the most popular web browsers on the market — Internet Explorer Version 10.
 
The site, he said, has been creating havoc for “dozens” of people who have Version 10 of Internet Explorer and have tried unsuccessfully to submit motions requesting intervenor status.
 
The deadline for sending the requests to FERC is midnight Wednesday. Nied said he is asking FERC to move the deadline to one month after the software glitch is resolved.
 
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young Allen, contacted by The Daily Star at her office at FERC headquarters in Washington, D.C., said her agency is aware of the software problem. The FERC site, she said, points out that Internet Explorer Version 10 won’t work for those seeking to use the site for intervenor applications, and recommends that they use the Google Chrome browser instead.
 
She added that the site does support the Internet Explorer Version 9 browser, and citizens trying to file documents could simply download that when they encounter difficulties using Version 10.
 
People who don’t have access to computers capable of logging onto the FERC site also have the option of contacting the federal agency by traditional mail, Allen said. If they have had problems with the web site, she said, they are advised to get a screen shot of the error message and include that with their letter. And FERC will consider intervenor motions after the Wednesday deadline, she added.
 
Those obtaining intervenor status have official standing in the case and can mount legal challenges to the $683-million project. They can also readily access all correspondence and documents filed in connection with the application for the federal license to build the pipeline.
 
Nied said the process of registering for intervenor status is complicated enough without the software snafu. He noted many people have had no experience seeking intervenor status in a federal proceeding.
 
“When the system they must use to have their voices heard presents roadblocks, the situation has moved from unfair to unacceptable,” Nied said.
A spokesman for the pipeline company, Christopher Stockton, said: “We hope that any technical issues with the FERC website are resolved so that individuals who wish to seek intervenor status have ample opportunity to do so.”
 
Scores of residents in Delaware, Schoharie and Chenango counties have already officially signaled to FERC they’d like to have intervenor status.
In one motion to become an intervenor, filed Monday, Nancy Turick of East Meredith, said she has lived for the past 14 years in a house that is now about a half-mile from the pipeline pathway.
 
Turick wrote that she believes the pipeline will lead to local natural gas extraction, and that the project is unnecessary. Other existing pipelines, she contended, can transport the gas to the Boston and New York City markets.
 
“I believe that it will drastically alter the rural character of the community and transform it into an industrial area,” Turick wrote.
 
The company is hoping that FERC approves the project within the next year so that it can commence constructing the 122-mile natural gas transmission system after July 1, 2014. The company has said it believes the project will be completed by March 2015, a deadline that project critics say is destined to be missed.
 
About 1,400 laborers would work on the installation of the pipeline if the project is approved, according to the pipeline planners. An additional 1,000 jobs would result from spillover activity generated during the building of the pipeline.
 
The project is a partnership of four players in the energy industry: Williams Partners, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and WLG Holdings. Williams holds the biggest share in the venture, with 41 percent.