COOPERSTOWN -- Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, is insisting that the controversial Constitution Pipeline project only be permitted by the federal government if the project developers drop plans to have the natural gas transmission system cut through hundreds of privately owned parcels and relocate it along the Interstate 88 corridor.
According to correspondence released Monday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Lopez asked the energy agency to "only authorize this project if it can be sited within the existing right-of-way along Interstate 88."
"I believe that siting the pipeline in Interstate 88 is the most practical, expeditious and least controversial option, especially considering that Williams/Cabot (the developers) is already looking to bring the project through in very close proximity to this thoroughfare," Lopez wrote.
He argued that "thoughtful use" of the corridor "sets a positive example for further infrastructure investment (i.e., fiber optic placement) along our interstates, both in New York and across the nation."
The proposed $750 million pipeline, if approved by FERC, would become operational in March 2015.
Thirty inches in diameter, the pipeline would run gas from hydraulic fracturing operations in Susquehanna County, Pa., and send it to an existing line in Schoharie County.
From there, it would flow to energy suppliers in the Boston and metropolitan New York City regions.
In maps that have been distributed by the pipeline planners to town government officials along the proposed route, the pipeline would run near I-88 but not within the right of way, other than to cross it.
On a website devoted to the project by Williams Partners, the company that would hold a 75 percent stake in the pipeline, the planners note that they are "analyzing" the suggested I-88 right-of-way.
"However, there are many issues that would make this route problematic," the pipeline website states. "These issues include available workspace, constructability, proximity to populated areas and potential environmental impacts."
Lopez, in his letter to FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, argued many communities along the pipeline route are still reeling from last year's two devastating storms -- Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
"Residents have expressed that the last thing they need to deal with is the prospect of having their very lands taken away from them as a result of pipeline right-of-way acquisition, even as they continue to rebuild from the floods."
Constitution Pipeline spokesman Chris Stockton said while the project planners have a preferred route, they also have come up with "15 significant route alternatives" and continue to delve into using the I-88 corridor, as FERC has directed them to do.
He said the highway corridor would provide construction crews with a narrower work space than the other potential routes, and also create the challenges of additional river crossings.
"That is something we try to avoid," he said.
Land owner Tim Camann of Sidney, whose property is in the path of the proposed pipeline, said he has refused to cooperate with the pipeline land surveyors because he opposes the project and believes the gas could be placed in existing pipelines in the region.
As for the Lopez push to keep the project in the I-88 right-of-way, Camann said: "It would be a lot better than going through my woods. On the other hand, if it promotes fracking, I don't think that is very good."
Dev Kernan, who with his siblings has a land trust consisting of 917 rural acres in Harpersfield, also argued that utilizing the I-88 corridor is preferable to routing the line through private property.
"It's more appropriate than plowing this pipeline through what many people regard as very valuable and recovering forest land," he said.
Lopez said that he was "not looking to jeopardize the project," which he said could lead to millions of dollars in new revenue to local counties. He said putting the pipeline along I-88 was "a more common-sense approach" that "balances the competing interests."
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said he believes the I-88 corridor should be "the first one considered" in evaluating potential routes, spokesman Jeff Bishop said.
Running through next week, the pipeline planners are holding a series of "open houses" to answer questions about the project. The schedule for the meetings in the area, all of which will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., is as follows:
Thursday: River Club, 1 Maple St., Afton.
July 25: Franklin Central School, 26 Institute St., Franklin.
July 26: Best Western Cobleskill, 121 Burgin Drive, Cobleskill.
In a letter to FERC on Monday, Constitution Pipeline representative Timothy Powell said the maps of the alternative routes and alternative sites for compressor stations will be presented at the open houses.
Powell also reported to FERC that 63.8 percent of landowners along the route have granted permission for land surveys, while 15.6 percent have denied access. Another 8 percent have "not responded" to survey requests and "concerns are being addressed with 13 percent," Powell said.