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Residents protest over FERC pipeline meeting

Published August 16. 2016 04:00PM

Concerned residents and activist groups gathered to protest the new PennEast/UGI pipeline project, in addition to the comment process itself.

The Monday meeting at Penn's Peak saw numerous residents, business owners, and intervenors participating in the Federal Energy Regulation Commission's meeting to hear comments on their Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline.

The DEIS has been hotly contested since its release in July, with numerous people and organizations citing its missing land surveys and environmental data.

"It's undemocratic, unfair, unjust. … What they have should be taken off the table and withdrawn until PennEast proves every piece of information that's required. How am I supposed to comment on noninformation?" Towamensing resident Mike Sauers said.

Many residents were concerned with the intent FERC itself, suggesting that the DEIS was fast-tracked without complete data due to questionable impartiality.

"The DEIS is full of holes, incomplete," said Roy Christman, a Towamensing farmland owner.

"This reinforces everyone's idea that FERC is a tool of the gas industry."

Others said that FERC had not even met its initial requirements, even before the publication of the DEIS.

Don Kunkle, executive director of the Wildlife Information Center in Lehigh County, was particularly interested in this point.

"It starts before the DEIS. They needed to determine public need. There was no honest determination of public need. What need is there for this?" he said.

Groups such as the Appalachian Mountain Club were concerned for protected environments that could still be compromised by the project. The club, which provided a written comment for the meeting, said that FERC "has not attempted to avoid and minimize impacts where those opportunities are available and where AMC has highlighted those opportunities."

In addition to complaints about the DEIS, many have contested the setup of the comment meeting. The format for commenting is personal meetings between individual residents and a group of two FERC personnel and two court reporters, with a time limit between three and five minutes.

Several attendees felt that this approach limited the spread of information that could contribute to preventing the project, and felt that listing the event as a "public comment" with no presentation of information was misleading.

"You don't get to hear your neighbors speak, you don't get to hear people who are more knowledgeable speak," Save Carbon County member Linda Christman said. "A lot of people are knowledgeable about how the pipeline will cross their property. Maybe if they hear it will affect their water supply, they'll have something else to comment on."

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen stressed that the meeting was a comment method, not necessarily a public hearing.

"We have conducted one-on-one format meetings for about a year for people who have sat through a town-hall style meeting for three hours, and they didn't get to speak," she said.

This is often due to restrictions implemented by venues that host FERC meetings, such as public schools, which may impose time limits for the property's usage. While most comment meetings last around three hours, the new one-on-one format allows for an additional hour.

Sauers was wary of such statements, bringing up examples from previous comment periods.

"When the Penn Forest Zoning Board was taking testimony for the windmills, they continued it," he said, explaining that the board added additional meetings instead of limiting speech times.

"It's gotten a lot of positive feedback … some people feel more comfortable speaking one-on-one," Young-Allen said. "Some people are shy, or they just might not agree with the public opinion. Who wants to be booed?

"The one-on-one format was developed to maximize participation in the public process," Young-Allen said.

However, many felt the same way about the comment meeting setup as they did the DEIS itself.

"I'm really offended by the whole thing," Sauers said. "This is a joke, really."

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