By Carole Marner
In the spring of 2012, we began to hear about the Constitution Pipeline. People in Sidney were alerted first and the word soon spread. In northern Pennsylvania the population around Montrose began to realize that a new compressor was being added to their community. Doing some research, they discovered that it was to be the starting point for the Constitution Pipeline. This was denied by the industry for a while, but not anymore.
In May, the Delaware County Cooperative Extension sponsored a public meeting in Franklin Central School with pipeline company representatives as well as forestry, soil and water experts who would be working with the DEC to enforce regulations. The last speaker was a lawyer offering to negotiate for landowners, explaining why and how they needed him to help them.
The meeting was described as “informational,” but it seemed more about facilitating the process, as in: “This is what is coming and this is how you can deal with it.” Local legislators were not on the schedule to explain how and why they could help their constituents. Instead of acting as a buffer between the citizen and the industry, Delaware County officialdom preferred to regard the pipeline as a matter between the landowner through whose property the pipeline was to be routed and the pipeline company – as if an entire community were not impacted by an interstate pipeline. If politicians showed any interest at all, it was in a potential town income source. As a result, many who received letters from Constitution requesting access to their land felt abandoned by their fellow citizens. They were on their own, each man or woman on their piece of land, having to make the best deal they could with the most powerful industry in the nation. Of course, there were those enterprising lawyers ready to jump in and say “you need me to help you do that.”
So in June, Howard Hannum of Trout Creek, a member of Sustainable Sidney, a farmer and Postmaster of Sidney Center, decided to call a meeting at the Maywood Center so that those who do not want the pipeline would not have to fight alone. Community groups joined in, and over 250 people from Schoharie to Pennsylvania showed up. Stop the Pipeline (STP) was formed. We voted for a Steering Committee, put up a website and got to work. Our politicians got a lot of mail from us. We researched everything about gas pipelines, and the more we found out, the more determined we became to stop the pipeline.
In August, STP got a big boost. One of the founding members, Anne Marie Garti, Delhi born and bred, is now a student at Pace University School of Law and a legal intern at the famed Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic (PELC). She discussed our situation with faculty members and PELC, which was founded by Pace Professor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, who still operates it with Professors Karl S. Coplan and Daniel E. Estrin, and a team of ten eager third-year law students. This past fall, STP was honored to be invited to retain PELC as its legal counsel.
In September, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced that its first public hearings on the pipeline would be held in October in New Milford, PA, Afton and Schoharie, we were ready to testify. Our speakers outnumbered the pipeline supporters by thirty and forty to one.
State and federal level politicians now took notice and tried to get us off the industry’s back with a proposed route along the I-88 corridor. None of us who had been researching pipelines believed that this was a serious proposal – too much of a planning and tactical nightmare – but legislators in Otsego County jumped at it, hoping to cash in on some industry handouts.
Now, that route is ancient history. A third route has been announced which does not touch Otsego County. It is very much like the first route but it differs in an interesting way. More on that to follow.
In October, after STP protested that more public comment hearings should be held along the route, FERC added a hearing at Foothills in Oneonta. Stop the Pipeline reached out again to other groups and together we got hundreds of people from Pennsylvania to Schoharie to rally outside Foothills before the meeting, and 800 people to pack the auditorium to capacity. Nearly a hundred made official comments. Of these, a mere handful – five people including the Mayor of Oneonta – spoke in support of the pipeline.
When FERC invited comments about the pipeline on its website, once again hundreds of people responded. STP reached out to assist affected landowners with making comments on the FERC website and with sending letters to the Constitution Pipeline refusing to allow pipeline employees access to their land.
And the interesting thing mentioned before is that when the third and latest Constitution pipeline route was announced, most of those property owners who had denied them access, found that they were no longer on it.
STP is still reaching out to help anyone whose properties are on the route and to encourage landowners to submit letters denying access.
Advocacy works. Join us. Find us at: www.stopthepipeline.org