By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star
---- — While the company promoting the Constitution Pipeline project has other ideas, routing the natural gas transmission system along the Interstate 88 corridor is a concept that hasn’t died, at least according to federal regulators.
On Tuesday, an official with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that oversees pipeline license applications, urged the Federal Highway Administration to help develop an environmental-impact statement for the $750 million project.
The letter, sent to FHA supervisor Jonathan McDade in Albany, was authored by FERC environmental project manager Charles Brown. Brown’s letter specifically noted that the I-88 option will be evaluated by FERC.
“Some of the alternatives being evaluated include potential collocation of the proposed natural gas pipeline within or adjacent to existing highway rights-of-way, such as Interstate 88,” Brown wrote.
An FHA spokeswoman, speaking on background, said her agency has not been asked by the state Department of Transportation to render a decision on whether the pipeline should run along the highway.
“NYSDOT would have to transmit the request and the location of the pipeline would have (to) conform to FHWA regulations regarding utility accommodation,” the spokeswoman said in an email. She acknowledged in response to questions that her agency received the FERC letter, and noted, “We sent a letter back seeking clarification.”
In December, The Daily Star, citing information from a Constitution Pipeline spokesman, reported that the federal highway agency had signaled that it objected to having the pipeline run along the I-88 right-of-way.
At that time, the same highway agency spokeswoman, Nancy Singer, insisted that her agency had not reached a decision on the project and noted, as she did again Tuesday, that the state DOT had not submitted any requests regarding the project.
The pipeline company has been focusing its efforts on its so-called preferred route, which largely avoids the areas near I-88. The company has said it would face logistical issues — such as having a narrow construction area and sloping terrain — were federal regulators to insist that the line run along the highway corridor.
Asked why FERC did not seek to enlist assistance from the Federal Highway Administration earlier, FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the Constitution Pipeline submitted draft reports dealing with the I-88 alternative route and other pathways Feb. 27. She said the letter to the federal highway agency was prompted by that filing to FERC.
Young-Allen also confirmed that FERC, if Constitution Pipeline follows through with a formal application for a license, will conduct an evaluation of the I-88 option, along with evaluating the company’s preferred route and other alternatives.
The Daily Star has reported that a rising number of private landowners along the proposed pathway have refused to cooperate with land surveys recommended by the pipeline company. Asked if those refusals to cooperate with surveys will have an impact on FERC’s decision makers, Young-Allen said the agency “will take all comments into consideration, as evidenced by the invitation to the Federal Highway Administration.”
As for the possibility that FERC could opt for a different route than the one being promoted by the pipeline company, she said: “The staff will review all potential alternatives to any proposed route. We will weigh the impact — pros and cons — of that particular alternative route. If they find an alternative route is superior (to the company’s preferred route), or will have fewer environmental impacts, then the staff can recommend that the alternative route be chosen.”
The pipeline would run 121.9 miles, from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the Schoharie County town of Wright, where it would link to two existing pipelines, the Iroquois Gas Transmission Pipeline and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
If the preferred route is chosen, no part of the pipeline would traverse Otsego County. If the Interstate 88 alternative were to be selected, a considerable stretch of the line would run in Otsego County, and much less would be in Delaware County.
Pipeline executives have said the 30-inch-diameter pipe would carry enough gas to the Boston and New York City markets to power up to 3 million homes each day.
Although the project has yet to be approved, the pipeline company is in the process of reviewing a second round of community grants to nonprofit organizations, volunteer fire departments and other community organizations, according to pipeline spokesman Christopher Stockton.
He said some 40 applications have been filed for the grants. The deadline for applications is Friday.
Stop the Pipeline, a grassroots group of area residents who oppose the project and contend it will lead to hydrofracking operations being set up near the transmission system, has called the community grants “blood money.”