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May 15, 2014

Pipeline faces delay as feds seek more data

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Federal regulators are pressing the planners of the Constitution Pipeline for a raft of new information about environmental impacts as part of a move that will delay the determination on whether the project can be licensed.

The authorization decision deadline had been scheduled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for Sept 11.

On Wednesday, however, FERC advised the pipeline company that it was requiring it to submit a slew of new information as a result of comments received from both the public and other agencies in response to a draft environmental impact report issued earlier this year by the FERC staff.

Numerous property owners with parcels along the pipeline route as well as groups advocating for the protection of birds, fish and wildlife had been critical of the draft report. They argue it did not adequately examine the full range of potential impacts of the project along its proposed 124-mile pathway stretching from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright.

FERC did not indicate how much additional time will be required for its review now that it is asking for more data from the company. But the agency made it clear that there will be a delay.

FERC told the pipeline company it wants more information on how it plans to protect bald eagles and migratory birds in the vicinity of the route

FERC also directed the company to provide a “complete justification” for erecting a series of monopole radio communication towers near the 11 proposed mainline valves along the route of the 30-inch-diameter pipe.

A spokesman for the pipeline company, Christopher Stockton, did not respond to email and telephone messages requesting comment on the FERC

The pipeline project has met stiff resistance from a grassroots group called Stop the Pipeline. One of its organizes, Anne Marie Garti, an environmental lawyer from East Meredith, said FERC must re-open the public comment period once the pipeline submits the documents sought by FERC.

FERC spokesman Tamara Young-Allen said her agency will continue to accept public comments until a final environmental impact statement is issued. She said there are no plans to conduct additional scoping hearings.

In another development, Acting FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur advised Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, that compensation of affected landowners along the route “will either be determined through direct, voluntary negotiations with the Constitution or, if the project is approved by the Commission, by the courts in eminent domain proceedings if the company and the landowner fail to come to an agreement.’

LaFleur wrote to Gibson in response to concerns the congressman expressed on behalf of a constituent. LaFleur said: “The Commission does not have a role in the easement or compensation process.”

The pipeline project has been endorsed by Amphenol Aerospace in Sidney, several labor unions and business organizations, all contending it will help spark the local economy and make the nation less dependent on imported oil.

But last month, the he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signaled that it views FERC’s draft report on the environmental impacts “insufficient.” The EPA called for more study of another potential option — co-locating the transmission line along Interstate 88.

Stop the Pipeline contends the project planners have designed the current route along ridge top areas in order to pave the way for future hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the region. The company denies the project is linked to any drilling plans in New York.