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June 29, 2013

Pipeline filing sets stage for FERC

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — As Carolyn Melszer of the rural town of Summit in Schoharie County sees it, industrial pipelines have no place in bucolic communities that teem with wildlife and waterways.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday, she explained why she is opposed to the proposed Constitution Pipeline, noting that what attracted her in the first place to a town like Summit was “the beauty, peace and quiet of this area.”

“We already know that the Constitution Pipeline company intents to send most of the gas overseas for their own profit,” Melszer wrote. “Which is more important — people or money?”

Melszer was one of the first persons living in the vicinity of the proposed pathway of the 122-mile natural gas transmission system to ask the federal agency to be awarded intervenor status.

FERC, by giving public notice this week that the pipeline planners have now formally filed their application for a federal license to construct the $683 million project, effectively opened the door for those following the project to become official intervenors.

According to a FERC-issued citizen’s guide on pipeline projects, those who become intervenors will be able to acquire the applicant’s license filing and other commission documents, including those filed by “other interested parties.”

“You will also be able to file briefs, appear at hearings and be heard by the courts if you chose to appeal the Commission’s final ruling,” the guide book states.

The controversial project — proposed by a consortium of four significant players in the natural gas industry — has divided local residents. Opponents argue it will lure gas drilling operations to the region and lower the value of parcels that run along the pathway. Proponents contend it will bring jobs to the region, infuse local governments with a new source of local revenue and lower energy costs for schools, hospitals, businesses and local governments.

The grassroots group Stop the Pipeline is urging residents to petition FERC for intervenor status so that they can have input into the FERC deliberations on the license application. Those petittions began to trickle into the agency this week.

Mary Ann Garti of East Meredith, an organizer for Stop the Pipeline, said within the first 21 days of a license application filing, those seeking intervenor status only have to briefly explain how the project will impact them. But after July 17, she said, getting the status is expected to become more cumbersome.

“It’s easy now, and it doesn’t cost anybody anything (to ask for intervenor status) and it preserves their rights,” Garti said.

She said Stop the Pipeline, which is working with the Pace University Environmental Legal Clinic, will also be seeking intervenor status, but it is still important for individuals taking a stance on the project to also file as individuals. “The group will represent the group,” she said. “Individuals represent themselves.”

Stop the Pipeline will be hosting a “Learn How to Intervene” meeting from 2 to 5 p.m on July 6 at Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta, at 12 Ford Ave., Oneonta.

Robert Harlem, one of the founders of the Oneonta-based pro-business group Citizens Voices, which has endorsed the pipeline project, said his group has not yet decided whether it will ask group to become intervenors in the pipeline project.

Harlem, the president of Oneonta Block Co., said there are no basis for claims that the pipeline project would become a magnet for hydrofracking in the region, noting the infrastructure is needed to bring gas harvested in Pennsylvania to existing pipelines in Schoharie County.

“We need jobs for our people,” said Harlem. “We’ve been exporting our youth. We can’t live in a ghost town.”

Harlem also said he questions what he called the “ulterior motives” of those out to kill the pipeline. “How do they plan to meet the needs of society?” he asked. “Tell us something you are for. That’s the question they have to ask themselves.”

The pipeline planners say the line would bring 650,000 dekatherms of natural gas each day — enough to power three million homes — from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in the Schoharie County town of Summit.

Although it remains uncertain whether the federal government will approve the project, the pipeline planners this week announced a second round of community grants to nonprofit and community organizations in the regions along the project’s route. The new grants, totaling $400,000, included awards of $25,000 each to the Sidney Youth Advocate Program, the Charolotteville Fire Department, the town of Bainbridge pool repair project, Schoharie Area Long Term Inc., a flood recovery organization, and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County

The Franklin Fire Department landed a grant of $24,980, while the Afton Historical Society secured a grant of $21,000 to help it with its building project.