The in-service date of Constitution Pipeline Co.’s proposed 125-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County has been pushed back about a year as a window closes this month to begin initial tree-clearing in New York.
The company has almost finished clearing trees in the roughly 20-mile Pennsylvania portion of the project but has not received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to do the same in New York despite two requests.
The tree-clearing has to be finished by March 31 in order not to interfere with the migrations of certain birds and bats, a deadline the company announced on Thursday it was unlikely to meet at this point.
In New York, the pipeline has yet to receive a final water quality permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, initially expected to be granted late last summer. FERC won’t approve the tree-cutting until the DEC approves the water permit.
Constitution Pipeline originally planned to have the $700 million pipeline in operation in the fourth quarter of this year. The company is now projecting a completion date in the second half of 2017.
The pipeline will carry natural gas from wells in Pennsylvania to about 3 million homes in New York and the Northeast in order to “help meet growing natural gas demand” in the region, according to the company.
Environmentalists and landowners who have opposed the pipeline from the start cheered the delay on Thursday.
“This is a huge victory for the landowners who didn’t know if they were going to have tree-cutting crews showing up on their property at any time in the near future,” said Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper.
Catskill Mountainkeeper and another group, Stop the Pipeline, are both challenging the project through legal channels with FERC, demanding a rehearing on the order of necessity granted by the agency in late 2014. FERC rejected initial rehearing requests in January.
“Hopefully this [delay] will give a little bit of breathing space for the DEC and New York governor to stand up to FERC and protect our water,” Gillingham said.
DEC did not respond to a request for comment on the progress of the water quality permit on Thursday.
A FERC representative said on Thursday that the extension of the project’s timeline will not require any new reviews as long as the route is not changed.
Labor leaders last month criticized the delays in approving the project as “the result of political pandering to the environmentalists.” They were promised that half of the 1,300 temporary pipeline construction jobs will to go to local union laborers along its route.
About 20 workers hired for tree-clearing in New York have already been laid off because of the delay, according to a statement from Laborers’ International Union of North America leaders.
Pending the DEC permit and a final Army Corps of Engineers permit, construction on the New York portion of the pipeline is now scheduled to begin this summer with full construction starting after Oct. 1 to minimize the effects on migratory birds and the long eared bat, according to a news release from Constitution Pipeline Co.
The company has offered to provide $8.6 million in conservation funding to restore and preserve migratory bird habitats along the pipeline route.
Stockton said the delay in New York is having no effect on work in Pennsylvania, where construction will start as soon as the company receives a notice to proceed from FERC.