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July 26, 2013

Clash begins over pipeline staging site

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — A nonprofit group with a history of battling industrial development vowed Thursday to take on a plan by one of Schoharie County’s biggest private employers to use a tract of former farmland off U.S. Route 7 as a construction staging area for the proposed Constitution Pipeline.

The Center for Sustainable Rural Communities said in a comment to federal regulators that it “vigorously challenge” any effort by town of Richmondville officials to permit a proposed “pipe yard” on land owned by Lancaster Development Inc.

The multimillion-dollar construction company is controlled by Cobleskill Mayor Mark Galasso and his family. The mayor told The Daily Star the company is the largest employer in Richmondville and is among the top four private employers in Schoharie County.

Galasso said he also anticipates that if the pipeline company gets a license to build the natural gas transmission system and moves forward with its proposed staging sites, the one in Richmondville will comply with all applicable state, local and federal laws and regulations.

The Rural Communities organization is headed by Robert Nied, an activist in the battle against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. Nied’s group told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the permitting of the proposed staging area in Richmondville “would be inconsistent with local zoning regulations.”

Nied said in an interview that the construction of the largely underground pipeline system will involve blasting, and he is concerned about the potential that explosive materials could be stored at the land owned by Lancaster Development. He also said siting the staging area at the former farm would lead to “a tremendous amount of heavy traffic” in the immediate vicinity. If approved by federal regulators, the pipeline project would commence with construction next year.

Galasso accused Nied of “trying to scare people” by speculating that explosives would be stores at the site. “That’s his modus operandi — to whip up a mob frenzy, and then he can get what he wants,” he said.

Galasso said she has not been apprised yet whether explosives would be stored on the property, but noted, if they were to be they, the storage of blasting materials is highly regulated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

He said the staging area would be “less invasive” than the nearby construction yard used regularly by Lancaster Development. The company has a total of about 300 employees, including abut 75 full-timers and another 80 part-timers who work in Richmondville.

Nied noted the Richmondville Town Board has gone on record as being in opposition to the construction of the 122-mile pipeline, which would stretch from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright. “Certainly, the community is not inviting the epicenter of construction activity to the town,” Nied said. “The only one who seems to want it is Lancaster Development because there is an opportunity to make a couple of bucks.”

Galasso responded: “He’s entitled to his opinion, and his opinion isn’t Gospel.”

Supporters of the $683 million project say it will stimulate the economy and potentially become a source of low-price natural gas for industry, school districts and local governments. Opponents content the project is unnecessary and will eventually invite the drilling industry to set up shop near the pipeline.