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December 5, 2012

Pipeline planners to assess impact on bald eagles

By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — As the would-be developers of the $750 million Constitution Pipeline prepare to seek federal approval of the project, one of the next steps will be to examine the population of bald eagles — considered a threatened species in New York — along the route.

In a new filing sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the planners of the 121-mile pipeline state that they will be conducting an aerial assessment of bald eagles, by way of helicopter flights.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Partners, a Houston-based firm that is the lead developer of the interstate pipeline, said his company hires biologists who are experts in determining whether bald eagles or other threatened species are present along the project’s route. The project planners, he said, will develop plans to “mitigate” any potential impacts on such wildlife, he told The Daily Star.

“If there is going to be tree clearing in a certain area, you want to make sure they don’t have eagle nests or that there are habitats for certain species” along that stretch of the route, he said.

Tom Salo, an organizer of the Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch, an arm of the Delaware-Otsego Audobon Society, said his group is concerned that the project would threaten several species of birds, as the the pipeline would lead to “habitat fragmentation.”

“There is a suite of forest-dwelling birds that evolved to live in interior forests, and egg habitat and the fragmentation of forests exposes them to predators and parasites that that they did not evolve to cope with,” said Salo.

If the project is approved, construction would begin in 2014. The pipe would be laid largely underground. But the developers, who would obtain rights-of-way along the route, would keep vegetation from growing above the route, leaving a number of species of birds potentially vulnerable, according to Salo and Andy Mason, the co-president of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society.

Mason said there is an active bald eagle nest near Pine Lake in West Davenport, about a quarter-mile from one of the pipeline’s alternative routes.

He said the forests each summer attracts wood thrushes and tropical birds that “need large, unbroken tracts of forest.”

“Putting a pipeline in there is definitely going to have an impact on those birds,” he said.

Also in its filing with the federal regulatory agency, the pipeline planners indicated that they will announce the winners of community grants that will be parceled out to local governments and nonprofit agencies by Dec. 15.

The Daily Star reported in August that the pipeline planners were taking steps to make community grant awards to such programs as first responder services, youth and senior citizens services, wildlife habitat enrichment and wetlands preservation.

The pipeline planners are hoping the natural gas transmission system would become operational in March 2015. The line would carry gas being extracted in Susquehanna County, Pa., and send it to two existing pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright. From there, it would be sent to the Boston and New York City markets.