COOPERSTOWN — Opponents of the proposed Constitution Pipeline are cranking up the pressure on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to hold additional environmental scoping hearings on the project, arguing that input from citizens of Otsego and Delaware counties is essential.
The schedule for the FERC sponsored hearings on the $750 million project calls for three hearings next week — one in Afton, Chenango County, one in the town of Schoharie and one in New Milford, Pa.
Landowner Diane Nixon of the Delaware County town of Meredith urged FERC to add an additional scoping hearing in Oneonta, citing the recent release of a new alternative route for the pipeline that would put significant stretches of the natural gas transmissions system near Interstate 88. The new alternative pathway, dubbed “Route M,” would impact many residents of Otsego and Delaware counties, she said.
Nixon noted she was told by a FERC representative at a recent meeting in Oneonta that the agency was unable to find any space in Oneonta capable of accommodating 33 to 400 people. So, she said, she contacted officials at the State University College at Oneonta and found that the campus’ Hunt Union Ballroom, capable of holding 800 people, was available on certain dates for $375, and the IREC Lecture Hall, holding up to 385 people, was available for $100. She even listed the names and contact information for the campus events coordinator and other staffers involved in renting out the facilities.
Nixon also called for a 60-day extension to the public comment period on the project to give more time to research the potential impacts of the alternative routes mapped out by the pipeline’s partners, Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas.
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the request for additional scoping meetings “will be taken under consideration” by officials at her agency. She noted that FERC is not required by federal law to hold any public scoping meetings on such projects.
“We’re doing this as a public service,” she said. She said the commission “wants to get as many comments as possible.” She also pointed out that those wishing to sound off on the Constitution Pipeline may simply send letters or emails to FERC by the Oct. 9 cutoff date.
Afton is approximately a 33-mile drive from Oneonta, while the town of Schoharie is about 45 miles from the region’s biggest population center.
Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, one of the organizers of Stop the Pipeline, a grassroots group that sprang up to fight the project, accused FERC of trying to sidestep areas where opposition is most fervent.
“People were just notified that their land might be taken for private use, and need time to study this issue,” she said. “FERC knows where there is overwhelming opposition to the pipeline, and they are avoiding it like the plague.”
Many critics of the pipeline have told FERC they believe the project will lead to hydrofracking in the region, despite claims by the project planners that the system is fully subscribed to drilling operations now under way in Susquehanna County, Pa. They have urged the federal agency to promote the development of sustainable forms of energy rather than approving projects that will utilize non-renewable fossil fuels.
One businessman, Amar Chowdry, chief executive officer of a company called Endeavour Solar Energy, told FERC in a correspondence Wednesday that his company is planning to construct a solar farm on 85 acres in the town of Sidney.
One of the pipeline’s proposed routes would cut across the property, Chowdry noted, and would “interfere” with the solar project.
In an interview with The Daily Star, Chowdry, a pharmacist by profession, pointed out the solar farm would produce energy for the grid. Allowing a gas pipeline near a site generating electricity “would be a recipe for disaster.”
He said he was particularly concerned that the federal government would confer eminent domain authority to the pipeline company if regulators license the Constitution Pipeline.
If fracking is also introduced to the region, Chowdry said, “it’s just a matter of time before you will see clusters of cancer pop up.”