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February 2, 2013

Trepidation flows through pipeline that exists only on maps

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — As Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis Valente sees it, it’s inappropriate for the Constitution Pipeline to be building public support for the controversial project by doling out what the company calls community grants.

The beneficiaries of the money are certainly worthy causes, he said. In fact, he added, one of them in his own backyard — the Pindars Corners Fire Department. The volunteer fire company scored a $23,955 grant form the pipeline company to purchase new gear.

But what irks Valente, he said, is the timing of the awards.

“It doesn’t pass the sniff test,” he said. “They want something from us.

“If the powers that be in the federal government decide, based on the merits, that this is going to be imposed on us, at that point and under those terms, I would be willing to apply for some of that money,” he said. “But right now it looks like some kind of payoff.”

Valente said he has tried to keep a balanced view of the project. If it gets the green light from federal regulators, the 121-mile pipeline would run through Davenport for 14 miles. He said he encouraged property owners to allow land surveyors go on their parcels so that the project planners can learn about the terrain and any environmentally sensitive areas or other obstacles they might encounter.

But he said he does not promote the project. Indeed, in October, Valente was one of just three members of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors to vote against a resolution in support of the pipeline.

Seventeen of his colleagues on the board had a different opinion, and the pro-pipeline resolution passed overwhelmingly. Valente would explain that he thought the resolution gushed too much about the project, and he was trying to keep an open mind on the potential impact it might have on the largely rural communities through which it would pass.

This week, after The Daily Star reported some Davenport residents were alleging pipeline surveyors came onto their property against their wishes, Valente said he sympathizes the landowners who found out less than two months ago that their property is on the pipeline’s pathway. Those notifications weren’t made until after the completion of a series of four public forums organized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency that will decide if the pipeline is to be built or not.

A spokesman for the pipeline company, Christopher Stockton, said the surveyors accused by several homeowners of trespassing had the permission of a landowner who has co-title to the private road in question. He said the company does respect the right of landowners to deny permission to the surveyors. If they ended up on property where they didn’t belong, he suggested, it might have been because of the snowfall that covered the ground on the day they were confronted by the homeowners.

According to Valente, the people who got the late notifications live along a 1.4-mile stretch that ended up on the newly revised primary route for the natural gas transmission system. The earlier incarnation of the route, he said, had been to the south, in the Gulf Road area. He said he figures the pipeline planners made the change in order to avoid impacting two other towns — Kortright and Meredith.

Valente’s advice for homeowners to grant access to pipeline surveyors stands in contrast to the position of the grassroots opposition group called Stop the Pipeline. It has urged land owners to refuse access and to rescind their permission if they have already granted it.

Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, one of the group’s organizers, said FERC requires the pipeline planners to keep the agency updated once a month on how many land owners along the pathway are allowing the surveys and how many are denying access.

According to statistics the pipeline company recently sent to FERC, 25 percent of property owners on the primary route have denied access. Garti said that figure does not tell the whole story because it does not include those who have neither allowed or disallowed the surveys. They should be included in the total who have not allowed access, she contended.

Garti, who suspects the pipeline company has been playing a shell game with the land survey numbers, said she would like to see FERC conduct an independent audit of the survey statistics that the pipeline planners send to the agency each month. “They have been sneaking onto people’s land in order to survey the property,” she maintained. “The pipeline company does not have the right of eminent domain so they don’t have the right to go onto anybody’s property unless the people have expressly given them permission to do surveys on their land. We have no way of knowing whether they had permission to be on the land or not. The consent forms are not publicly available (from FERC).”

JOE MAHONEY is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at jmahoney@thedailystar.com.