About 350 people — both opponents and supporters — turned out to voice their opinions on the proposed Constitution Pipeline project Wednesday night as the state Department of Environmental Conservation wrapped up a series of three public hearings this week.
The turnout at the nearly three-hour hearing at SUNY Cobleskill roughly matched the turnout for each of the first two meetings, held earlier in the week in Binghamton and Oneonta, DEC officials said.
The proposed 124-mile, $683 million pipeline would carry natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in New York and New England. The pipeline would begin in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County and end in the town of Wright in Schoharie County, where it would connect with Iroquois and Tennessee Gas pipelines.
Among the approximately 60 people who spoke at the hearing, opponents outnumbered supporters by about three to one, warning of known and unknown environmental and health risks associated with the pipeline and criticizing what they called insufficient environmental considerations in the planning and review process so far.
The project gained conditional approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in early December. FERC’s final environment impact assessment preceding that approval has been criticized by environmental groups as improper and insufficient, and the groups have called for a new hearing. Many of those same complaints were made to DEC officials at Wednesday’s hearing.
“The FEIS fails to seriously consider the impacts of this pipeline from the perspective of good science,” said Robert Nied, a board member of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities, which opposes the pipeline. “When the FEIS does acknowledge impacts, it refers to nebulous mitigation that lacks any specificity in terms of scale, scope or methodology.”
With FERC approving the project — pending several remaining state permits and more specific mitigation plans — Nied said “the citizens of New York must look to the DEC to protect us from an ill-conceived project with a terrible and heavy environmental footprint.”
He joined other opponents, many of whom represented environmental groups, in calling for DEC to hold an adjudicatory hearing at which all sides would have a chance to make their case for or against the pipeline.
In addition to environmental groups and concerned citizens, a handful of those speaking out against the project Wednesday night were landowners who said they felt bullied and threatened by the corporation behind the project, Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC, a venture of Williams Partners LP, Cabot Oil Gas Corp., Piedmont Natural Gas Co. and WGL Holdings Inc.
Harold Wright of Schoharie said his family has been “harassed” by the company to allow the pipeline to run through their property. He said he fears contamination of his well water supply if the pipeline is approved.
Nearly all of those speaking in support of the pipeline were members of various local labor unions, who said the area needs the jobs the pipeline would provide.
“The research has been done to help protect the environment,” said Tamara Duvall of Local 157 Laborers Union of Schenectady. “It’s good for the economic growth of the communities.”
Kevin Sisson, a town councilman in Carlisle and member of Carpenters Local 291, like many of the other union speakers, insisted the DEC and FERC would do their job in regulating the pipeline and that fears of leaks, explosions and pollution were overblown.
“Multiple federal and state agencies oversee and regulate the gas industry, many of their stipulations overlap, reinforcing the safeguards,” he said. “I believe we can find a balance between nature and industry.”
With the area missing out on a casino, he said, the pipeline is an opportunity to “start up New York here.”
The DEC recently extended the deadline for public comment on the project and will be accepting written comments until Feb. 27.
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