Federal regulators have rejected a request from Schoharie County officials for documents relating to three archaeological sites that would experience "adverse impacts" from the $700 million Constitution Pipeline, contending they are exempt from the federal Freedom of Information Act.
It was the pipeline company itself that had advised a federal historic preservation agency of the potential negative impacts to the sites, though Schoharie County officials were not directly apprised of this concern. It was instead brought to their attention by Bethany Yarrow, a musician who is the daughter of Peter Yarrow of the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, and other local anti-pipeline activists.
In a letter acquired Wednesday by The Daily Star, Leonard Tao, director of the office of external affairs for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, advised Schoharie County senior planner Shane Nickle that documents relating to the archaeological sites in question are "specifically exempt from disclosure."
Tao cited provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act in rejecting the county's formal request for information describing "the nature and location of certain archaeological and cultural resources."
While governmental agencies sometimes release documents while redacting the sensitive portions of them, Tao said the document would be kept secret in its entirety, noting, "There are no reasonably segregable portions of the document."
FERC decided last December that the Constitution Pipeline is a project in the public interest, and that any negative environmental impacts could be minimized with mitigation techniques.
Schoharie Town Supervisor Gene Milone said FERC's denial of records relating to local archaeological sites shows that the federal regulators and the Constitution Pipeline "are in bed together."
"There are obvious problems with these pipelines, and FERC is just looking to hide the truth," said Milone. His community would be traversed by the Constitution Pipeline and would also get two new gas compressor stations if a second major natural gas project, the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan, gets the green light from FERC.
Robert Neid, a Schoharie County environmental activist who has fought a number of development projects, said the FERC decision effectively keeps local residents from "knowing the full nature of the negative impacts the pipeline will bring to their communities."
In a new development concerning the same project, Constitution Pipeline on Wednesday urged FERC to allow it to work on a contractor yard for the project. The pipeline project still has not received final approval for water permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. That is one of the last impediments facing the pipeline planners before they can put shovels in the ground.
Having already been granted eminent domain authority by FERC, the pipeline company has gained easements to all parcels along the 124-mile transmission route that begins in northeastern Pennsylvania and ends at the Iroquois Gas company compressor in the Schoharie County town of Wright, just east of the county seat.
The contractor yard where the company wants to begin work would have a concrete-coating facility, according to the company's letter to FERC.
"Mobilizing equipment so that concrete coating activities can commence at Contractor Yard 5b immediately upon receipt of this permit is especially important to the Project schedule to ensure that sufficient lengths of coated pipe are available for installation across wetlands and time restricted streams," the company said in the letter, which carried Wednesday's date.
The yard in question is in Albany County, 13.9 miles from the pipeline route, Lynda Schubring, the company's environmental program manager, advised FERC.