Yielding to critics of the proposed Constitution Pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today decided to extend the period for public comments on the environmental impact of the gas transmission system to Nov. 9.
The cutoff day for comments had been today, but opponents of the $750 million project have argued many landowners had only been informed in recent weeks of an alternative route that would put a stretch of about 30 miles of the pipe in Otsego County near Interstate 88.
In another concession to the opposition, the federal regulators said they will hold a fourth scoping hearing on the pipeline from 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Foothils Performing Arts Center. The first three hearings were held in Afton, Schoharie and in Susquehanna County, Pa. Pipeline critics said those locations were so far away from Otsego and Delaware county residents that it made it difficult for them to attend.
Reacting to the FERC decision, Constitution Pipeline spokesman Christopher Stockton said in an email to The Daily Star: "There were a number of public comments requesting another scoping hearing in this area. I think this is a good example of how the FERC listens to and takes those public comments very seriously."
Robert Nied of Schoharie County, a member of the grassroots group Stop the Pipeline, welcomed the FERC decision.
"Giving people additional time to offer comments is absolutely critical," Nied told The Daily Star. "We still need to some meetings in Delaware County. We have people just coming up to speed on this. We should give them an opportunity to get their hands around the issue and make appropriate comments to FERC."
The company is expected to file an application early next year for federal approval to build the project. The fate of the proposal will be decided by the five politically-appointed commissioners overseeing FERC. Those same commissioners, if they are convinced the pipeline needs to be constructed, will also make the final decision on the route that it will take to send gas from Pennsylania to the town of Wright in Schoharie County.
There, according to pipeline planners, it would connect with two existing pipelines in order to transport the natural gas to the Boston and New York City markets, whre it would power some three million homes each day.
Also today, in a new filing with the FERC, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation raised concerns with alternative routes that would cut through Mine Kill State Park and Max V. Shaul state Parks.
The agency also objected to the proposed Route M, as that would have taken the pipeline through Robert Riddell State Park in Otsego County.
After that fact was pointed out last month by The Daily Star, Stockton said the route would be altered to avoid the Riddell park.
In a related development, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up a resolution on Wednesday in support of a route that would go through eight Delaware County towns.
That route is in direct competition with Route M, the so-called I-88 option that last week was supported by a majority of Otsego County representatives.
The Otsego board said having a stretch of the pipeline in the county could yield about $3 million in tax relief. Pipeline opponents criticized the Otsego board for taking action before FERC had decided on the request to hold the additional scoping hearing in the Oneonta area.