COOPERSTOWN — After drawing up a new alternative route putting stretches of the proposed Constitution Pipeline closer to Interstate 88, representatives of the project’s developers will field questions from landowners at two public meetings in the week ahead in Cobleskill and Oneonta.
The new pathway — dubbed “Alternate Route M” by the architects of the proposed natural gas transmission system — will be the focus of the meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Best Western hotel at 121 Burgin Drive, Cobleskill.
The same route will be discussed at a meeting running from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Thursday at the Holiday Inn Oneonta at 5206 State Highway 23, Oneonta.
Whether the 121-mile pipeline is constructed hinges on whether it wins approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A formal application to construct the pipeline is expected to be filed in January by the two companies that would finance its construction: Williams Partners and Cabot Oil and Gas.
In a sign that activity surrounding the project is picking up, the federal agency Friday scheduled its first public forums on the controversial project.
The first so-called “scoping hearing” will be held by the FERC from 7 to 10 p.m. on Sept. 24 at Afton High School, 29 Academy St., in Afton. The next hearing will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Schoharie High School, 136 Academy Dr., Schoharie. The third will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Blue Ridge High School, 5058 School Road, New Milford, Pa.
Those three meetings will be the first opportunity for citizens and organizations to sound off directly to the FERC on the $750 million pipeline, which would carry gas from Susquehanna County, Pa., to two existing pipelines in the Schoharie County town of Wright.
Much of the opposition to the project comes from critics who claim the presence of the pipeline would lead to the permitting of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in communities in close proximity to the largely underground pipe. The pipeline planners say the line is already “fully subscribed” and is not being designed to accept any gas other than that being extracted in Pennsylvania.
Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, one of the project opponents who have started a grassroots group called Stop the Pipeline, said the map for the “Route M” alternative, as prepared by the developers, shows that a “tremendous number” of landowners would be impacted by the new route. Based on the maps that she has viewed, Garti said, it appears that significant stretches of “Route M” are not within the I-88 right-of-way.
FERC had directed the pipeline planners to come up with the Interstate 88 alternative after several local officials, including Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, advised the agency that running the pipe along the highway right-of-way would lessen the number of landowners in the pathway.
Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for the pipeline company, said there were logistical problems in trying to place the pipeline within the I-88 corridor because construction workers would need a swath at least 120 feet wide to lay the pipe. In some areas along I-88, he said, the right of way is only 60 feet wide.
“We have it as close to I-88 as we can,” Stockton said in an interview. “It’s not as easy as just drawing a line on the map.” He said part of the reason why the project planners are sponsoring the two open houses in the coming weeks is to explain the problems that would be encountered by placing the pipeline inside the highway corridor.
Stockton acknowleged that “about 500 new parcels” would be impacted by “Route M.”
The company’s preferred route, traversing fields, woods and farmland for much of it, would cross some 1,300 parcels of land, most of them in New York. Stockton said he did not immediately know the total number of parcels that would be touched by “Route M.” However, he acknowledged, “in some places you are just shifting impacts.”
“Route M” is the only alternative route that would place part of the pipeline in Otsego County. The pipeline would enter Otsego County in Otego, then run north near I-88 to the town of Oneonta, where it would then head east toward Davenport Center, allowing it to avoid the city of Oneonta. It would return to Otsego County in the town of Maryland, before running north again near I-88.
“We want to identify a route that has the least amount of impact on people and the least amount of impact on the environment,” Stockton said.
Even with the “Route M” alternative, Garti said: “They are affecting a lot of landowners.
If the Constitution Pipeline secures a FERC license, the company would have eminent-domain power to secure rights-of-way from landowners who object to having the pipe placed on their