A volatile flood plain, sensitive farmland and deadly history with gas pipelines should push the Constitution Pipeline construction closer to the highway, farmers and state legislators said Tuesday.
State Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and state Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, held a meeting with farmers and said too much could be lost if the proposed 30-inch natural gas main is routed through the Schoharie Valley.
The Constitution Pipeline is proposing to plant roughly 120 miles of pipe to bring gas from northern Pennsylvania up to a compressor station in the Schoharie County town of Wright.
Numerous alternatives are being considered, but the project’s preferred route maps about 30 miles of pipeline through Schoharie County in the towns of Summit, Richmondville, Cobleskill, Schoharie and Wright.
Alternatives, however, include construction up and over mountains and beneath the Schoharie Creek several times in the towns of Jefferson, Blenheim, Fulton and Middleburgh before getting into Schoharie.
Land near Interstate 88, a major highway that travels southwesterly from Rotterdam to Binghamton, is already part of the company’s preferred path, but legislators said it should follow that highway as closely as possible and avoid homes and farmland when possible.
Seward acknowledged the pipeline proposal isn’t under the purview of state officials — interstate pipelines are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But he said officials can voice concerns and demands that safety be a primary factor in planning, considering Schoharie County’s history with gas pipelines.
An explosion in 1990 killed two people and laid waste to North Blenheim after a leak in the pressurized propane pipeline that runs about 22 miles through Schoharie County.
The same pipe exploded again in 2004 in Delaware County south of Schoharie County, and then, six years later, it sprang a leak in Gilboa and caused a major evacuation.
That same pipe was unearthed in three different places during flooding from Tropical Storm Irene last year.
“People in Schoharie County, in particular, are very sensitive about pipelines,” Seward said.
Both Seward and Lopez said there are advantages to delivering the natural gas to market and to having the capability of offering natural gas, which is cheaper, to businesses in their districts.
Farmer Richard Ball said agriculture has been ongoing in Schoharie Valley for more than 300 years and disrupting the soil is a bad idea.
“One of our greatest resources is our soil here,” he said, adding that a pipe near I-88 would be “least intrusive.”
Farmer Jim Barber said digging up the valley could also compromise its scenic beauty, which he called “one of the greatest assets to this valley.”
Middleburgh Town Supervisor James Buzon said there’s also concern about proposed routes being placed near the stone mining operations in Middleburgh and Schoharie — both of which entail blasting and vibration that might not be good for a pipeline.
He said even brief interruptions on farms could have a lasting impact if customers who drive to their favorite farm stand for fresh produce find it closed.
“They may not come back next year. Many of these places are just recovering from the floods,” Buzon said.
Tuesday’s meeting drew a contingent of citizens who are fighting against hydrofracking — a method of extracting gas that forces chemicals into the ground under high pressure.
Activist Epifanio Bevilacqua of Delaware County said there should be no pipeline built whatsoever.
He said he believes hydrofracking, which produces some of the gas the Constitution Pipeline would transport, is contaminating people’s food and water.
“Who gives these people the right to kill everybody,” Bevilacqua said. “It’s all about money.”
Constitution Pipeline spokesman Christopher Stockton later Tuesday said the company’s pipeline is a delivery system unrelated to the battle over hydrofracking in New York state.
“This project isn’t designed to facilitate hydraulic fracturing in New York, it isn’t in any way depending on it,” he said.
“This is taking gas that’s already been extracted in Pennsylvania and it’s basically building a bridge to existing infrastructure,” Stockton said.
He said the company has heard numerous suggestions regarding the I-88 corridor, and engineers are revisiting options for placing the pipeline closer to the highway.
But there are several complications involved in building the pipeline close to that highway: it runs along or near the Susquehanna River to the southeast of Schoharie County and that would create the need for more river crossings.
From an environmental standpoint, Stockton said, that “is not the way to go.”
In Schoharie County, pushing the project closer to I-88 also means putting it closer to population centers like Cobleskill and Richmondville.
“We try our best to avoid populated areas,” Stockton said.
The bulk of the medians on I-88, which would be the place to a lay a pipeline, are about 60 feet wide. The industry requires 125 feet of width for the construction corridor to safely install a pipe, Stockton said.
Constitution Pipeline is holding open house meetings for the public in New York this month. The meeting closest to the Capital Region is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26, at the Best Western in Cobleskill.