Constitution pipeline

Daily Star file

This January 2013 map from Constitution Pipeline shows the company's preferred route for the project.

The Constitution Pipeline company conceded Thursday that it will have to delay its projected date of putting the natural gas transmission system into service from late this year to the second half of 2017.

The pipeline company had said that in order to proceed this year it would have to cut trees along the planned route in New York by the end of this month to comply with environmental concerns regarding bird habitat.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not acted on the company's request for a "limited notice to proceed" with the New York tree felling.

The federal agency has been under pressure from the state Attorney General's office in Albany to disapprove the tree felling in New York because the pipeline planners have yet to obtain a water quality certificate from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state agency is expected to rule in April on that permit application. A Cuomo administration spokesman assigned to the DEC, Sean Mahar, has not responded to requests from The Daily Star to release the exact date of the company's filing for the permit.

Opponents of the project, who have predicted the pipeline project will never be completed, have said that the agency has a full year to consider the permit application.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been silent on the proposed pipeline, although high-ranking members of his administration have met privately with pipeline executives.

In a statement Thursday morning, Constitution Pipeline said of the updated schedule for putting the project into service: "This adjustment is to ensure compliance with the environmental conditions of the FERC Order, as well as the USFWS Biological Opinion."

The company added: "Specifically, the in-service date adjustment is in response to the rapidly closing environmental window to complete tree felling activities prior to March 31. To date, Constitution has completed nearly all tree felling activities in Pennsylvania."

The company said that pending receipt of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification from DEC and the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it "anticipates beginning limited mainline construction in the summer of 2016."

"Full mainline construction would continue after October 1 to minimize and avoid adverse impacts to migratory birds and the Northern Long Eared Bat," the company said. "All activities are subject to third party environmental monitoring."

The pipeline company also noted that it has agreed to provide $8.6 million in conservation funding for the restoration and preservation of migratory bird habitats in New York and Pennsylvania as a conservation measure.

The company said the $700 million project that would run from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright "was thoroughly reviewed and approved by the FERC in December 2014. Challenges to the project were denied by FERC in January 2016. Once complete, the pipeline will become a key piece of critical utility infrastructure in the Northeast, creating an important connection between consumers and reliable supplies of clean, affordable natural gas.

Critics of the project have said the gas that the company says would be sent to New England and New York consumers is not needed and would likely end up being converted to liquefied natural gas and then sold on the international markets.

But Constitution Pipeline contended Thursday that the project will address "pipeline infrastructure issues that have exposed New England and New York consumers to less reliable utility services, higher than average natural gas prices and, significantly higher electric-generation costs."

It also said the project would "directly and indirectly support more than 2,400 jobs and generate $130 million in labor income for the region" and serve 3 million homes.

*The grassroots group Stop the Pipeline has a pending lawsuit against FERC, contending constitutional due process rights were violated when it was prevented from going to court earlier to challenge FERC approvals. In a related legal claim, Catskill Mountainkeeper alleges there were flaws in FERC's review process.

The opponents argue the pipeline would cause irreversible environmental damage as it slices through fields, forests and farmland and contribute to methane emissions. 

The pipeline company said the project's economic impact is anticipated to result in more than $13 million in local tax revenue and more than $600,000 in new income in the region.

The company also said that in conjunction with the Leatherstocking Gas Company it will install delivery taps that will facilitate gas service to homes in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania.

*This paragraph had a factual error that has been corrected.

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