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January 15, 2014

Land trustees ask FERC to shift pipeline route

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — An attorney for an Otsego County family in control of nearly 1,000 wooded acres held in a land trust wants federal regulators to reroute the proposed Constitution Pipeline away from the parcel, contending the project will cause “permanent” environmental damage to wetlands and other sensitive areas.

The lawyer, Carolyn Elefant of Washington, D.C., said in a new filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the pipeline planners have “ignored” pleas from those controlling the Henry S. Kernan Family Trust to shift the pipeline out of the Charlotte Forest.

The land was given that name by retired forester Henry Kernan, now 97 years old and residing at a Cooperstown retirement home.

His children have pleaded with the pipeline company to keep the pipeline out of the property, which is located in Harpersfield and was purchased by Henry Kernan nearly 70 years ago.

Elefant said in her letter to FERC Commissioner Kimberly Bose that the Kernan Trust suggested a proposed route alternative to the pipeline company in September and November.

“As part of the discussions, Constitution sought permission to enter the Trust’s lands to survey the property,” Elefant said. “The Trust agreed, provided that Constitution agreed to survey the alternative routes. Constitution refused. Shortly thereafter, in November 2013, Constitution informed the Trust that it would no longer consider any alternatives to its preferred routes and terminated further discussions.”

The 124-mile pipeline, if approved by FERC, would impact more than 1,000 landowners between northern Pennsylvania and the town of Wright in Schoharie County, where it would tie into two existing pipelines. While some landowners have signed easement agreements with the company, many have refused to allow survey crews to go onto their parcels and have urged FERC to refuse to license the project.

Elefant told Bose that FERC has an independent obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act to evaluate all project impacts that surface during the scoping process “along with viable alternatives.”

“Constitution,” she added, “has to date refused to acknowledge adverse impacts to Trust lands or change the pipeline route — but Constitution’s recalcitrance does not excuse the Commission from arriving at its own independent conclusions.”

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for the pipeline company, said project engineers have examined various alternative routes, including those suggested by the Kernan family members, and found they would have “greater impacts” on the environment than the company’s preferred route.

“We have worked directly with the Kernans to the extent that they have allowed us to do so,” Stockton said. “They have not granted access to that property for us to conduct a complete environmental analysis. Analysis using our available desktop resources suggest greater impacts, both environmentally and to other landowners (their neighbors) for all re-routes suggested by the Kernans and developed by our engineering team.”

Stockton also said that the pipeline planners have “reviewed multiple alternatives along the Kernan property and provided that analysis within our Alternatives Report in Resource Report 10 provided to FERC.”

“We’ve demonstrated that we are more than willing to make route adjustments to accommodate landowner requests, modifying more than 50 percent of the original route,” Stockton said. “However, in this case rather than reducing our footprint, the alternatives appear to simply shift impacts to a different set of landowners.”

Advocates for the controversial project have said the pipeline will produce a continuing new stream of revenue for local governments and make natural gas more readily available to schools, hospitals and businesses. Critics argue the pipeline will invite invasive species into environmentally sensitive areas and pave the way for the gas-drilling industry to enter the region.