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April 25, 2013

Files: Pipeline route crosses state forest

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — The pathway for the proposed Constitution Pipeline, a transmission system that would carry enough natural gas to power 3 million homes a day, would slice across a state forest in Schoharie County, according to a document released Wednesday.

The pipeline company advised federal regulators the project would run across Clapper Hollow State Forest in Jefferson. That land is controlled by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The pipeline company said in its monthly filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency that it met with DEC officials March 20 to discuss the forest. The filing did not elaborate on that discussion.

Although pipeline and DEC officials conferred on the routing more than a month ago, a DEC spokeswoman said Wednesday she had no immediate information on the project.

“The DEC is evaluating the proposal for the Constitution Pipeline project. ... This project is still in the pre-application stage,” a DEC spokeswoman wrote in an email Wednesday.

Critics of the pipeline said the state forest should be off-limits to the industrial size pipe — which would be 30 inches in diameter — saying installing it at Clapper Hollow would be disruptive to the environment.

Business groups such as the Oneonta-based Citizen Voices have argued the pipeline could stimulate economic activity and lower energy costs for school districts, hospitals and employers by becoming a local source for natural gas.

The Clapper Hollow State Forest, an 820-acre tract, located just west of state Route 10 and north of state Route 23 is used by hikers, cross country skiers, birdwatchers and hunters.

Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, an organizer for the grassroots group Stop the Pipeline, said her group wants the DEC to stand firm against the route that would send the pipeline through Clapper Hollow.

“We’re going to make sure that DEC guards the resources of New York state,” Garti said.

In response to an inquiry about the routing from The Daily Star, Christopher Stockton, the spokesman for the $750 million project, acknowledged: “We do clip Clapper Hollow State Forest with the primary route by just a couple hundred feet.”

Stockton said pipeline staffers “are still actively working with NYDEC to refine the routing in that area to either avoid, minimize or mitigate that crossing.”

Jefferson Town Supervisor Dan Singletary said the company’s so-called preferred route has changed several times, and he had not been aware the current route calls for running the line through the state forest.

Singletary noted he goes cross-country skiing at Clapper Hollow in winter.

“The town has a position that while we are concerned about the operation and the siting of these things, it’s really out of our hands,” Singletary said. “It’s in the hands of FERC.”

In recent correspondence related to various pipeline concerns, the DEC indicated that the proposed construction schedule for the 121-mile route, beginning in late 2014, “appears to be in conflict” with construction restrictions designed to protect trout and warm-water fisheries.

A DEC official also took note of concerns with the impact the project could have on Northern Monkshood, a federal-listed protected species of fish found in Delaware County.

The official, Patricia J. Desnoyers, noted that a number of landowners have refused to allow surveys of their tracts.

“At those locations where permission has not been granted to survey this species, those surveys need to be conducted once the easement has been granted through eminent domain, prior to initiation of construction activities,” Desnoyers wrote March 29.

Whether the pipeline company gets eminent domain authority has not yet been determined. That power would be conferred upon the company only if FERC deems the project to be a public necessity, and awards it a federal license. Before that happens, however, a detailed environmental impact review must be completed.

Stockton, responding to the concerns raised about the construction schedule, wrote in his email: “We are actively engaged with the NYDEC regarding the stream crossing construction window. We are exploring all of our options to avoid, minimize and mitigate environmental impacts, including the possible utilization of specialized construction techniques. We will address these issues in detail when we file our application in June.”

Garti said whatever reservations the DEC may have with the project don’t seem to be having an impact on the pipeline company’s plans.

“The DEC is telling them what the rules are, and the pipeline company is obviously not going to follow them,” she said.

FERC has told the pipeline company to examine whether it is feasible to co-locate the pipeline along existing natural gas transmission systems in order to send the gas to the New England and New York City markets.

The company is hoping to have the pipeline built and in service by March 2015.