The third round of community grants sponsored by the Constitution Pipeline is about to be completed. The company has already awarded around $700,000 to local communities within the counties where the pipeline project is proposed, and there is more to come.
Constitution Pipeline is “committed to being a good neighbor by putting safety, environmental stewardship and community support at the heart of their operations,” as the project manager stated in a recent press release.
Some locals have said that the best way to do this is to cancel the pipeline altogether but, as usual, they are being treated as anti-progress carpers when they point out that the emperor has no clothes.
Initial grants of up to $25,000 each have already been given in New York to: the Broome County Soil and Water Conservation District; Broome County, to rehabilitate Otsiningo Park; the Greater Afton Chamber of Commerce, to create a new chamber; the Bainbridge Community Foundation Walking Trail; the Boys and Girls Club of Sidney; the Pindars Corners and Masonville Volunteer Fire Departments; the village of Franklin Hall, for handicap-accessible entry; the Sidney Municipal Swimming Pool; the town and village of Sidney, for a regional ambulance service; the Franklin Community Educational Foundation, for field trips to the Museum of Modern History in New York City; the Richmondville Volunteer Fire Project, for emergency communication enhancement; the Summit Fire Department; and the Scho-Wright Ambulance Service.
Noble projects indeed, all potential mitigation credits.
Second-round grants went to organizations in the counties of Broome ($92,446), Chenango ($46,000), Delaware ($98,316), Susquehanna ($78,546), Otsego ($6,000) and Schoharie ($86,667).
Of interest are the Schoharie grants, a county that has offered resistance to the pipeline. Here, monies have been given to Schoharie Area Long Term Inc. (SALT) for “building hope, rebuilding community” after the floodings; Jefferson Historical Society for the Maple Museum free music series; Cobleskill Little League for repairing and rebuilding the ball field and concession stand; Charlotteville Fire Department for purchasing firefighting apparatus; Cobleskill Recreation Commission for an ADA-compliant lift for the community pool; and, last but not least, the Schoharie County Soil and Water Conservation District for its environmental outreach fund.
This last grant of $24,948, to a public agency, is only one of several this agency is seeking, and is causing alarm bells to ring. This is the agency citizens must go to for data as they try to understand soil and water issues when they work to make a case against the pipeline and for Schoharie county landowners and taxpayers.
Will this and other grants taint the agency’s regulatory process? Is there an appearance of impropriety? Acceptance of money from Constitution Pipeline by any official or municipality has a bad smell that has been described by a local activist as “blatant, sleazy, unethical, and a violation of the public trust.”
But, alas, it is not illegal.
One thing the public should be aware of is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the group that has to approve this pipeline’s construction, looks at mitigation projects that will balance out the inevitable environmental damage that is done by pipelines.
These grants are actually mitigation credits, and the more the pipeline company amasses, the faster they get the permits.
Working for the company
In fact, any group who accepts any grant is essentially working for Constitution, and will be responsible for residents of this region losing their land through eminent domain, not to mention the damage done to the soil, air and water by its construction and operation. Constitution’s promises of jobs and $5 million in annual taxes to the region are good public relations fodder, but these may or may not come to pass.
In case residents think this is extreme, they might be reminded of similar promises by other pipeline and gas facilities in Schoharie county. The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company held towns and school districts hostage for assessed taxes for years, challenging these tiny groups with their phalanx of lawyers. It went on so long that some in the town of Carlisle aren’t clear whether their Town Hall was paid for as a gift or by a fine for an Iroquois Pipeline “incident.”
The Middleburgh Central School District is considering applying for a “grant” to repair flood damage, and were told by John Faso, who represents Constitution Pipeline, that he is “98 percent sure that FERC will approve” the pipeline, and the school “should get on board.”
This is the same former assemblyman who represented Tennessee Gas in the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) settlement of their tax dispute, who ran for governor on an anti-school property tax platform, and sponsored charter school legislation in New York.
Will FERC allow this photo-shopped image enhancement to pass? If the pipeline is built, will Constitution immediately challenge local assessments for property and school taxes? Will those solid jobs materialize? Will the residents of Schoharie county see through these half-truths, overcome their fear of lawsuits in Towns and school districts, and accept probable use of eminent domain by the pipeline company?
Or will they look at past behavior by the fossil fuel companies and be relatively sure that the companies will proceed as usual?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette