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PennEast comment deadline nears

Published September 03. 2016 09:00AM

The deadline for written comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in reaction to the agency's draft environmental impact statement for the proposed PennEast pipeline is fast approaching.

Due Sept. 12, the written comments will become part of the legal record and be coupled with those voiced by people in several one-on-one meetings with FERC officials, including one at Penn's Peak in mid-August.

"FERC staff determined that construction and operation of the project would result in some adverse environmental impacts, but impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant levels with the implementation of PennEast's proposed and FERC staff's recommended mitigation measures," according to the draft environmental impact statement.

Residents across Pennsylvania and New Jersey objected to the format of FERC's most recent comment sessions.

Instead of a town-hall style meeting, which FERC held at Penn's Peak in February 2015, people wishing to comment were taken behind a black curtain and given the chance to speak only in front of FERC officials.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the format allowed residents who may not share the popular opinion to speak without feeling intimidated.

Around 60 people attended the hearing and 50 people offered comments, all of which matter, according to the local opposition group, Save Carbon County.

"Comments and letters before the issuance of the draft environmental impact statement were meant to shape the draft and have no legal impact," the group wrote in its September 2016 update to stakeholders.

"Now that the draft has been issued, those same comments take on legal standing. Also of great importance are the permits that are now under consideration by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our group is working hard to get substantial comments and data into these agencies."

Costly opposition

Save Carbon County recently spent around $1,000 on a full-page advertisement in the Times News reminding people of the deadline and "summarizing the impacts of the pipeline."

Christman said that isn't the only expense it has incurred while fighting the $2 billion pipeline company.

In the two years that we have been fighting this, we have spent about $6,000," Christman said.

Expenditures include approximately $2,000 on yard signs, $1,000 copying information for landowner meetings, $400 for meeting sites, $500 on producing a brochure, $600 on printing postcards protesting the pipeline, $400 on postage, $1,000 on the full-page advertisement in the Times News and another $200 on miscellaneous expenses.

Two grants from the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter totaling $1,900 have helped to offset the cost in addition to one from The Mountain Watershed Association for $1,242.

"We also receive generous support from our leadership group, who donated to pay for the recent ad in the Times News and who have reached into their pocket for many other expenses," Christman said.

Save Carbon County shares resources with other concerned citizens groups along the proposed path of the pipeline.

"When we started, we were given 100 yard signs, valued at $400, purchased by another group," Christman said. "We have gotten printed material donated to us as well. The website stoppenneast.org has information about every affected county in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and was donated by an individual."

Christman credits all of the people involved in the grass-roots opposition effort, who she said have put in a tremendous amount of work despite many working full-time jobs. Members help each other understand environmental law, the rules governing interstate pipelines and the pipeline itself.

"We don't have engineers working for us and we don't have a paid publicity department either," Christman said. "Volunteer experts have donated their time to conduct training sessions in Carbon County on such topics as environmental monitoring, the legal rights of landowners, how to register as an intervenor with FERC, and pipelines in general."

Pipeline details

The 118.8-mile pipeline would run through Kidder, Penn Forest, Towamensing and Lower Towamensing townships in Carbon County on its way from Luzerne County to Mercer County, New Jersey.

FERC evaluated whether existing or proposed natural gas pipeline systems could meet PennEast's objectives while offering an environmental advantage.

"Approximately 100 percent of capacity for the Atlantic Sunrise project, and 90 percent for the PennEast project, has been contracted, therefore, there is customer demand for both projects," according to the impact statement. "The Atlantic Sunrise project would also not provide for the same delivery points for customers that have been identified for the PennEast project."

According to the draft environmental impact statement, construction in Pennsylvania would affect a total of 1,182 acres. Of that, about 534 acres would be retained as permanent right of way for operation of the pipeline and the above-ground facilities. In New Jersey, about 431 acres would be affected by construction, and approximately 250 acres would be retained for permanent operation of facilities.

PennEast estimates that local workers, or those who normally live within daily commuting distance of the work sites, would account for approximately 40 percent of construction jobs for each, spread out for the duration of the project.

A maximum 47,700-horsepower compressor station is planned near Route 940 and Interstate 80 in Kidder Township.

Recently, the Blue Ridge Real Estate Company transferred 74 acres to PennEast for $999,000.

PennEast spokeswoman Pat Kornick called it "one of a series of agreements with landowners" at this point of the process.

The station calls for installation of three new Solar Mars 100 natural gas-fired compressor turbine-compressors, a natural gas-fired emergency generator and ancillary heating equipment.

Construction of the compressor station would exceed FERC's threshold at several noise-sensitive areas, and PennEast has agreed to implement mitigation measures, as necessary, such as use of temporary noise barriers.

"Depending on the listener proximity to the project right of way, pipeline construction noise may also be audible to recreationists at Hickory Run State Park and the eastern end of Beltzville State Park," FERC said.

What's next

FERC plans to release its final environmental impact statement by December.

A final decision on the pipeline is due by March 2017, according to a timeline released earlier this year.

According to PennEast's website, if the company gets the necessary federal authorization, it plans to have the pipeline in operation in 2018.

How to submit EIS comments

Instructions for submitting written comments on the draft environmental impact statement are available at https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp.

PennEast's docket number is CP15-558-000.

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