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September 19, 2012
Group: Most comments to FERC are anti-pipeline
By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

COOPERSTOWN — The flurry of comments fielded by federal regulators who will determine if the Constitution Pipeline is built has mainly come from people opposed to one or more of its proposed routes, according to a grassroots group trying to halt the $750 million project.

Stop the Constitution Pipeline said in a correspondence to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week that 85 of the 145 individuals who have filed comments with the federal agency signaled they disagreed with the routes that have been drawn by pipeline planners. The group also noted that 60 percent of those filing comments “are entirely opposed to the pipeline in any form, regardless of the route it may take.”

Bruce Kernan of Worcester, who with family members owns a 950-acre parcel of land in Harpersfield that is on the pipeline planners’ preferred route, said the level of opposition could spell trouble for the project if FERC determined that many landowners are against the pipeline’s construction.

“The number of landowners who are opposed can greatly influence the decision,” said Kernan, noting he and other pipeline critics recently met with two FERC representatives for a briefing on how the five FERC commissioners typically evaluate pipeline license applications.

Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Partners, the lead investor in the pipeline project, said the fact that opponents of the project are doing most of the writing to FERC is “not unusual.”

“Most of the comments you see are going to be from people who have concerns,” Stockton said. “Rarely do you see comments from folks who don’t have an opinion.”

In its latest progress report filed with FERC, the Constitution Pipeline indicated that 64.5 percent of property owners along the primary route have given permission for land surveys. The company said 22.4 percent of the land owners have denied access to their parcels and that it was “addressing landowner concerns” for 9.9 percent of the landowners.

The company said it has completed surveys along all of the parcels where the landowners consented to the work. That amounts to 75.1 miles of the 120-mile route for sending gas from Susquehanna County, Pa., to the Schoharie County town of Wright.

A FERC spokeswoman who specializes in pipeline projects, Tamara Young-Allen, said the land surveys assist the pipeline builder and the federal agency in determining what environmental concerns need to be addressed if a particular route were approved. The fact that a survey has been completed, she said, “doesn’t mean that the project is gong to be approved by the commission.”

In response to questions, Young-Allen acknowledged that FERC approves the great majority of pipeline license applications that it reviews. Of the ones that are denied, she said, “it’s a small percentage because most of the companies meet the criteria that the commission expects and requires.”

FERC will hold scoping hearings next week to identify potential environmental concerns for the pipeline’s primary route and the alternate routes. The first meeting will be Monday at Afton High School, followed by a Tuesday meeting at Schoharie High School. The forums will run from 7 to 10 p.m.