In addition to 124 miles of natural gas pipeline, Constitution Pipeline is looking to install a series of 11 radio towers along its route from Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright.
In a document filed Wednesday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Constitution officials detailed the plan to install a line of 100-foot-tall radio towers at critical points of infrastructure along their proposed pipeline.
Constitution Pipeline originally submitted its plans for FERC approval in November. That agency’s 900-page draft environmental impact statement on the proposed pipeline was released for public comment last month.
The first mention of a radio tower network was submitted with just 12 days left in the public-comment period, which has local pipeline opposition group calling for an extension of the comment period.
Four public comment sessions are scheduled on the proposed pipeline:
Monday, 7 p.m., Cobleskill-Richmondville High School
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Oneonta High School
Wednesday, 7 p.m., Afton High School
Thursday, 7 p.m., Blue Ridge High School, New Milford, Pa.
“They snuck this in right at the end,” said Robert Nied, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities. “Twelve days isn’t enough to study a tower’s environmental impacts, then allow people to comment.”
Nied sent a letter to FERC requesting a 60-day extension on the current 45-day public comment period, which is set to end April 7.
While a small number of towers might seem like a relatively innocuous addition to the 124-mile pipeline project, Nied contends they raise a whole list of separate questions.
When Constitution made its initial filing with FERC, Constitution spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company knew it needed some sort of communication system, but it was contemplating satellite or cellular options.
Considering the rough terrain, they recently decided radio would be more reliable. He said reliability is key because the towers will transmit the signals that open valves and control gas pressure within the pipe, as well as the conversations of workers.
According to Stockton, four of the 11 towers would be built in Schoharie County, one each in Summit, Richmondville, Schoharie and Wright.
“Radio towers are very common for interstate pipeline systems across the country,” he said.
However common, Nied worries the towers will hurt local property values and wildlife populations.
“They’re visible,” he said. “So they could impact property values.”
Each tower would be tipped with a light that Nied said could cause light pollution. The towers themselves, he said, could affect bird populations.
The town of Wright, for example, slated for a tower should the pipeline project be approved, is home to the northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk and Cooper’s hawk, all endangered species.
Nied is also concerned radio frequencies could disrupt the echolocation mechanisms of the area’s bat population, already stressed by the deadly white nose syndrome.
He doesn’t claim to be an expert and admits that the towers might have no impact at all on birds or bats.
“I think we need to slow down and study this,” he said.
According to FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen, no decision has been made regarding further study or an extension of public comment, but some extension is likely.
“The [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] recently requested a comment extension of between 15 and 30 days,” she said. “They were short-staffed and needed more time to look over our draft.”
FERC personnel also will be conducting more study on other aspects of the pipeline.
Local anti-pipeline organizations have argued the draft environmental impact statement glossed over a number of aspects of the project, such as the potential for terror attacks on the pipeline or traffic congestion around work zones.
Scores of letters were written to FERC.
Young-Allen said the draft environmental impact statement is just that — a draft. “We’ll be coming out with a final copy,” she said. “That should answer people’s questions.”
After that, a commission of FERC officials will decide whether or not the project should move forward.