Final FERC hearing on Constitution Pipeline draws both sides of shale gas debate

Alex Lotorto, voiced opposition to the Constitution Pipeline at the hearing but attempted to connect with union pipeline workers during the FERC Hearing held Thursday night at Blue Ridge High School. Lotorto said he is a member of the Industry Workers of the World union. STAFF PHOTO/PAT FARNELLI

Alex Lotorto, voiced opposition to the Constitution Pipeline at the hearing but attempted to connect with union pipeline workers during the FERC Hearing held Thursday night at Blue Ridge High School. Lotorto said he is a member of the Industry Workers of the World union. STAFF PHOTO/PAT FARNELLI

BY BRENDAN GIBBONS
Times Shamrock Writer

People on all sides of the shale gas debate who attended a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hearing on Thursday might have their differences, but at least no fights broke out.

The hearing at Blue Ridge High School was the last of four on the commission’s draft environmental impact statement for the Constitution Pipeline project. The project involves approximately 124 miles of 30-inch natural gas pipeline from Susquehanna County to the Iroquois Gas Transmission line and Tennessee Gas Pipeline in Schoharie County, N.Y. Constitution hopes the project will be in service by late 2015 or early 2016.

Charles Brown, environmental program manager with FERC, said he had to pull two people apart at a hearing Wednesday night in Afton, N.Y. A fight broke out in the parking lot and state police were called, he said.

As a landowner himself, he understands why emotions run high at these meetings. If FERC grants Constitution a certificate of public necessity and convenience, the company could force landowners to accept a pipeline easement on their land through the eminent domain process. The company would have to pay the landowners for this easement.

New Milford resident Tony Baroni said Constitution is eyeing his land for the pipeline route. He told FERC he signed a drilling lease with a gas company and allowed gathering lines with the Bluestone Gathering System on his land, a process he had good feelings about.

Not so with Constitution, Mr. Baroni said. He told FERC that Constitution representatives offered him half of what he was paid for the Bluestone line. He summed up the company’s dealings with landowners as, “This is a federal project. You can’t stop us.”

At this point, it’s impossible to tell how many landowners along the proposed route are in Mr. Baroni’s situation. FERC’s list of affected landowners is not publicly available.

Others attendees expressed concerns about flaws in the draft environmental impact statement. Most of this project would require digging up land not currently used for pipelines or any other rights of way. Only 9 percent, or 11.2 miles, of the project would be within or adjacent to existing easements, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

About 20 members of the Binghamton, N.Y.-based Teamsters Local 693 attended, wearing neon green shirts that said “We Support Pipelines.”

The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement ends Monday. Many who commented in writing, including the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, asked for an extension on that period because of information missing from the document.

In a March 24 letter, the department identified at least 10 environmental plans still missing from the document, ranging from slope stability analyses to surveys for state-listed threatened and endangered species.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the commission will not extend the comment period, although comments submitted after Monday will still be considered for the final environmental impact statement.