The Constitution Pipeline proposal, post-disaster relief and widespread cellphone dead zones are among issues candidates running to represent the 19th Congressional District have been getting an earful about.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman, of Stone Ridge, Ulster County, on Friday both visited Schoharie County, a piece of the sprawling district that also includes part of Montgomery County and parts or all of Rensselaer, Columbia, Greene, Otsego, Dutchess, Ulster, Delaware, Sullivan and Broome counties.
Gibson got a tour of the north side of SUNY-Cobleskill’s campus, a working farm where students learn about agriculture from animal breeding all the way to meat processing.
Schreibman joined U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, on a tour of several sites in Schoharie County including the Schoharie Valley Farms’ Carrot Barn, the Harva Co. and Mrs. K’s Kitchen in Middleburgh.
Several counties in the 19th Congressional District — newly redrawn this year following results of Census 2010 — are in the crosshairs of the proposal to plant the Constitution Pipeline underground for a 120-mile stretch leading from Pennsylvania to the town of Wright in Schoharie County.
The proposal has caused apprehension among many in the district who have voiced their concerns.
If elected, Gibson said he intends to keep these concerns in mind and expects the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to do the same.
“I expect FERC to listen to our constituents and to our leaders,” he said.
“In Seward there’s some landowners, and also in Schoharie there are landowners who have expressed significant concerns about these routes. So what I want to see FERC do is work with, listen to, our constituents and our leaders and I see my role here to advocate on their behalf,” said Gibson, 48, a retired Army colonel who holds a Ph.D. in government.
FERC has held public meetings on the pipeline but people in areas that could see the project run through their land weren’t given a public forum.
Gibson said they deserve a hearing closer to their homes.
If the FERC permits the project, some landowners could be forced to host it through eminent domain — a process he said he intends to scrutinize.
“I am going to be an advocate for our constituents when concerns of eminent domain become a problem, because I believe in individuals, families and communities as the strength of America, so I will be an advocate for our people,” Gibson said.
Schreibman, 40, an attorney and former Ulster County prosecutor who served as a lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency, said he’s been hearing about the pipeline in several areas of the district.
“I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are taking a great interest in it and have great concerns. They want to be sure that we have adequate public hearings about it across the region,” he said.
“There’s certainly questions about if it does come — what’s the best route, whether to follow along the interstate and existing transmission lines, the way the company wants to go, which looks a little more disruptive. It’s something I’m definitely learning about and something I want to look at very closely,” Schreibman said.
Officials in Schoharie County are looking for an advocate on the federal level as they seek disaster funding to replace the historic Blenheim covered bridge, a southern Schoharie County landmark that was torn away by the Schoharie Creek during Tropical Storm Irene.
FEMA has not been inclined to cover any replacement costs for the bridge, considering it an “artifact.”
The county is also hearing from FEMA that the cost to house inmates while the flood-wrecked county jail is rebuilt is not necessarily disaster-related, and that’s another issue county officials are seeking help with from federal representatives.
Schreibman said playing that role is one of the primary purposes of a congressional representative.
“I think it’s a congressman’s job because you represent folks on the federal level to be that voice that can help collect the issues and interests in the different towns and ensure services are delivered,” he said.
He said he believes the cost of housing prisoners outside of the county is “absolutely an aspect of disaster relief.”
“I know housing prisoners, especially out-housing them, can get very expensive. Folks are very right if they are incurring extra costs as a result of the disaster, that if you’re working at relieving those you have to take a look at what the overall impact was,” Schreibman said.
Gibson said he’s been working with federal agencies to bring needed flood relief funding to the hard-hit areas since the storms hit in the late summer of 2011, and he intends to continue that work in the district.
“You can expect that I will be aggressively advocating for Blenheim, for all the towns, for Schoharie, Wright, Esperance, Middleburgh, all the towns that have had issues, we will be advocating for them,” he said.
One of the easiest things to demonstrate to legislators in Schoharie County is the difficulty people face when trying to get a cellphone signal — they just have to try to make a call in some of the mountainous areas.
At the same time, many people in the 19th Congressional District still lack high-speed Internet service.
Both candidates said improved coverage on both issues is important.
Schreibman said the work should include not only supporting improved cellphone and broadband services but also maintaining land lines.
“Frankly, some of the providers in certain states are trying to roll back what’s a legal mandate to provide landline service to every home,” he said.
Gibson, who authored an amendment to maintain a federal, low-interest loan program for efforts to improve broadband connectivity, said it’s a “huge issue,” throughout the district.
He said the effort shared broad support and he’s optimistic work will continue toward getting rural folk the services those in urban areas already enjoy.
It’s expensive for communication companies to build out infrastructure to connect with a small number of customers, but Gibson said some providers are finding success using wireless technology “for that last mile.”
“It’s all very exciting,” he said.
People can learn more about the two candidates on their campaign Web pages: www.julianforny.com and www.chrisgibsonforcongress.com.