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Path of PennEast natural gas pipeline modified near Plains Township, Laflin Borough

PLAINS TWP. — Swayed by public input, the company planning to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline slated to weave beneath parts of Luzerne County has revised its latest route as the window to alter the project’s final path draws to a close.

In what could be the project’s final tweak before it reaches a formal application stage, the latest proposed changes alter the path of the PennEast Pipeline near Plains Township and Laflin Borough, north of Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Originally plotted to run southwest of Popple Construction’s Valley Stone Quarry on East Saylor Avenue, the 36-inch wide, underground pipeline is now set to run north of the site.

The move is the latest among hundreds of variations, both big and small, made to the pipeline’s course, which originates near Dallas High School and continues southeast through Carbon, Northampton and Bucks counties before ending 114 miles later in Mercer County, N.J.

Ron Filippini, Plains Township commissioner, said he was notified of the route changes sometime last month and that PennEast officials have been “informational.”

“They’ve been trying to keep us notified of things going on,” Filippini said, adding that representatives have been willing to visit the area when township officials have questions.

An “exhaustive” evaluation period that began in October, the latest change was spurred by concerns shared by local stakeholders over the past several weeks, said Anthony Cox, PennEast project manager.

Those details include requests to avoid grave sites at an adjacent cemetery, the stables at the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Plains Township Municipal Park. Cox, who described the modifications as “minor,” said future plans for extended quarrying in the area were also factored into the decision.

“We are looking for that input,” Cox said. “That’s the whole point of this process.”

Related: PennEast pipeline project moving forward with route changes

The recommendations made to PennEast are the product of an ongoing approval procedure carried out under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a third party agency that polices the transferal of oil, electricity and natural gas.

The commission is the lead agency tasked with evaluating the project’s environmental impact.

Extracting the sought-after resources of the Marcellus Shale region, the pipeline will transfer over one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to data from PennEast, a consortium of six natural gas companies.

Their obligation, Cox said, was to organize the pipeline in a way that is safe and has the least amount of environmental impact.

“We evaluate proposed variations against crossing water sheds, impact to the land, trees,” he said. “All of those things go into that evaluation so we can stand by the change.”

With construction set to begin in 2017, opportunities to fine-tune the pipeline’s ultimate route are running out, said Patricia Kornick, PennEast spokeswoman.

“Now is the time to make the changes,” Kornick said, adding the company will continue to collaborate with stakeholders to design the route even after the pre-filing stage ends and PennEast files a formal application later this month.

Once the application is formally filed to FERC, its staff will record findings and recommendations in a draft environmental statement that will be open for comment, said spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen. Once the comments are provided, officials will look at additional analyses and combine that into a final statement, she explained.

A five-member commission appointed by President Obama will then vote on the pipeline’s final route and determine rates.

While this route change is the latest, there’s a chance it might not be the last if FERC determines a better course exists.

“There is certainly room for FERC to make the decision where the line is built, but we obviously have done what we believe is all the homework that’s needed to be done to substantiate why we’ve chosen the route we have,” Cox said.

The pipeline is scheduled to be operational in 2018.

This article was written by Joe Dolinsky from The Times Leader and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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