Clearing away a few trees to gain access to a site: Not construction.
Clearing away 700,000 trees from an area almost as wide as a football field through over 100 miles of woods, fields and waterways: Definitely construction.
Until all the permits have been obtained and all appeals have been exhausted, there's no justification for state and federal officials to allow the developers of the proposed Constitution Pipeline to begin preparing the construction site for their $700 million project by clearing the path for it.
The pipeline developers say they need to get going on the clearing if they're to stick to their construction schedule.
But environmental groups say the site-clearing is premature until the state Department of Environmental Conservation issues water quality permits for the project. And Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to withhold the company's approval to start construction until the state permits have been issued and other issues have been resolved.
If the clear-cutting is allowed to go forward and the developers somehow don't end up getting their permits, they'll have unnecessarily left behind a barren path in which they've destroyed forestland, destabilized the soil and disrupted animal habitats.
More to the point, clearing trees and brush could have a significant impact on streams, lakes and other bodies of water through erosion and runoff. So the project should have to wait until the state issues its permits regarding the impact of the project on water quality.
The developers claim that clearing land doesn't constitute actual construction and therefore they don't need the state water-quality permits to proceed. But because stripping the land will affect water quality all along the route, it should be considered part of the construction in this case.
It's unfortunate for the developers that the permit process is taking longer than they'd like. But no developer should be able to just assume they’re going to get permitted. If they don't have the permits, they shouldn't be allowed to begin construction. That's how it works.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should honor the state's concerns, respect its permit process, and not allow the clear-cutting to move forward until all the permits are in place.