By JOE MAHONEY
A union official representing 850 workers at the Amphenol plant in Sidney is urging federal regulators to approve the proposed Constitution Pipeline to help spur economic development in the region and retain jobs.
Bruce J. Hodges, president of Local Lodge 1529 of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, said in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that he supports running the 121-mile pipeline through the Sidney area.
He noted the village of Sidney has "never had access to natural gas."
Hodges' letter was released Thursday by FERC, the only government agency empowered to sanction or thwart the proposed interstate natural gas transmission system. The pipe, 30 inches in diameter, would run largely underground from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the town of Wright in Schoharie County.
"Access to natural gas would result in significant energy savings to both businesses and residential homes that would have the opportunity to use it if a pipeline was located nearby," Hodges wrote. "Access to clean-burning, cheap natural gas has been one of the cornerstones of many communities' economic development. Bringing natural gas to Sidney and the surrounding communities is decades overdue, and this pipeline appears to be the best opportunity for getting it here."
The pipeline planners said they are hoping to begin construction in 2014 and have the system operational in March 2015. In recent weeks, they held a series of open houses in Schoharie, Delaware, Chenango, Broome counties, as well as in Susquehanna County, Pa., to answer questions from land owners whose property could be potentially traversed by the line. The pricetag for the project, including compressor stations, has been estimated at $750 million.
Hodges wrote: "My main concern is the preservation of the jobs at Amphenol. Simply put, the cheaper it is to produce products here, the more likely it is that jobs will remain here. These high-paying jobs support an entire community of businesses in a 40-mile-plus radius around Sidney."
Hodges noted that Amphenol was devastated by floods in 2006 and again last year, putting hundreds of jobs in jeopardy.
"It was feared that suffering two floods in such a relatively short period of time would result in the inevitable closing of the Sidney facility with jobs most likely being sent to foreign countries," he wrote.
However, he said, the company opted to stay in Sidney, "but not at its present location, which had proved to be far too vulnerable to flood waters. The decision to build a new factory in the Sidney area was a very complicated one, involving many aspects that needed to be addressed to make the decision a financially viable one."
Key to keeping Amphenol in Sidney, he said, was "securing cheaper energy sources." Gaining access to natural gas to heat the new facility and to fuel processes needed in its plating facility "were pivotal in the decision to build a new plant in the Sidney area.
"While I cannot speak on behalf of all my members on all the merits of this proposed pipeline, not knowing how many do or do not support its construction, I can speak for all of them when I say our jobs are of paramount importance to us and the communities we live in."
He continued: "The loss of any jobs at Amphenol sends a ripple effect through the local economy, and if Amphenol made the decision it was no longer economically feasible to do business in Sidney and closed down, it would have a disastrous effect on the entire region."
One local anti-pipeline activist pressing FERC to kill the project, Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, called Hodges' argument in support of the project flawed.
She said Norwich, Oneonta and Walton all have access to natural gas -- without a 30-inch pipeline bringing it to those communities -- and Sidney could be getting gas from the same sources.
"His argument doesn't hold any water," she said.
Hodges also said in his letter that FERC could "take a lot of the emotion out of the debate" by siting the pipeline within the existing Interstate 88 corridor "or another previously developed location such as the Canadian Pacific Railway's former Delaware & Hudson right-of-way." Hodges said the concerns by property owners who object to having the pipeline run across their land "warrant discussion."
Garti said she believes the pipeline planners will strenuously object to placing the line along I-88 because it would have to be a Class 4 pipeline, requiring numerous inspections, as opposed to a Class 1 pipeline, which are far less expensive to install and operate.
Hodges asked FERC to approve the project in "an expeditious manner so that this pipeline can be built allowing for communities to have access to an alternative, cheaper and cleaner energy source that they are long overdue in reaping the benefits."