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Army corps eyes impact of pipeline on environment

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has raised new concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Constitution Pipeline, and is directing the project’s planners to complete provide more data.

The federal agency listed its concerns in a letter to the Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC that was released this week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the panel of White House-appointed regulators that will decide whether the proposed $700-million project is licensed.

FERC is expected to determine next Friday if it will issue a final environmental impact statement for the 124-mile subterranean pipeline, which would send natural gas extracted from northeastern Pennsylvania to two existing pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright. The pipeline is projected to carry enough gas to power some 3 million homes.

The project has ignited considerable opposition from landowners who face the possibility of eminent domain proceedings if they refuse to grant easements to the pipeline company.

Some business groups have backed the project, as have the Delaware County Board of Supervisors, both the management and labor union at the Amphenol Aerospace plant in Sidney and influential Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Existing plans call for the Leatherstocking Gas Co. to run a feeder pipeline from a tie-in connection off the Constitution Pipeline to the Amphenol plant.

Jodi M. McDonald, a regulatory branch chief for the Army Corps of Engineers, advised the pipeline company in the Oct. 8 letter that an assessment will be needed of “cumulative impacts” from both the Leatherstocking Gas project and Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s Northeast Energy Direct Project.

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The latter project is a combination of proposals to run a new 135-mile “greenfield” pipeline from Pennsylvania to Wright and add another lengthy stretch of pipeline from Wright to the eastern Massachusetts town of Dracut.

Because the Constitution Pipeline project has applied to discharge fill material into 137 acres of regulated wetlands, it needs a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

McDonald said in her letter, “…There is significant coordination, information and requirements which must be completed in order to make a decision on your permit application.”

McDonald’s letter also revealed that the pipeline company representatives have stated in meetings with her agency that if the pipeline were to extend longer than 127 miles it would require an additional compressor station “which would have greater environmental impacts.”The transmission system, as designed, now calls for an expansion of a compressor station in Wright.

“Please explain what the environmental impacts might be and how they would be greater than the environmental impacts should the primary route be constructed,” McDonald wrote.

The new questions from the Army Corps, coming just before FERC will decide whether to issue an environmental impact statement needed in order for the project to move forward, gave a lift to a grassroots group fighting the project, Stop the Pipeline, said Anne Marie Garti, an organizer for the group and an environmental lawyer from East Meredith.

“The message here is that this is going to cause a big delay,” said Garti, predicting the Army Corps’ hesitation to issue a wetlands permit will wreck the company’s timetable to begin laying pipe within the next few months

“The project cannot proceed without the Army Corps’ permit,” she added.

However, a spokesman for the pipeline company, Christopher Stockton, remained optimistic about the fate of the project and said the firm “continues to be actively engaged with the U.S. Army Corps of engineers to address the agency’s concerns related to wetland and water body crossings.”

“Input from agencies like the Corps is an important part of the FERC process,” Stockton said. “We are optimistic that by continuing our dialogue with the Corps we can provide the information necessary to support the agency’s ultimate permit decision.”

 

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