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Legislators Write To FERC Over Pipeline Expansion In A NY Park

Courtesy of Westchester County

Some Westchester legislators say they are troubled by the potential environmental impact on county parkland from a proposed gas pipeline expansion project. They’re asking federal regulators to take a closer look.

Six of seven Westchester County Board of Legislators who sit on the Labor, Parks, Planning & Housing Committee, including the Board chairman, have written to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, expressing concern over the potential use of more parkland than initially thought for the Algonquin Incremental Market Project, or AIM Project. Peter Harckham, a Democrat, is chair of the committee, which recently held two days of meetings on the AIM Project.

“The major concern is the draft environmental impact statement is woefully inadequate and actually contains just some factually wrong information when they say the impacts to the park will be minimal,” says Harckham. “We heard from Spectra that they want to clear cut an additional ‘temporary easement’ easement of up to 135 feet in areas beyond the 75 easement they already have.”

At issue is county-owned parkland within Blue Mountain Reservation, in the Town of Cortlandt, and Harckham says Spectra reached out to the county Parks Department just one week ahead of the November meetings.

“So the Parks Department has done no real assessment of the environmental impacts to the park, so how can the DEIS say that the impacts will be minimal?” questions Harckham. “So we called on FERC to withhold any approval of the certificate until the impacts to the park are further studied, and we also called on them to issue a supplemental impact statement because the impacts need to be studied.”

A FERC spokesperson did not return a request for comment. Marylee Hanley is spokeswoman for Houston-based Spectra Energy, which operates the 1,127 mile pipeline that goes from Lambertville, New Jersey to Boston.

“We are replacing smaller diameter pipe with larger diameter pipe so there will be some areas where the workspace will vary, so we’ll require some temporary workspace. So there could be some modifications to the workspace, the existing easement. This would be just construction related,” Hanley says. “And so, of course, once the pipeline was installed we would return the land back to its existing state or better.”

Harckham calls the potential environmental effects devastating.

“We’re talking hemlock groves which are extremely rare now in the Northeast, old growth trees, wetlands, vernal ponds,” Harckham says. “It converts internal, pristine internal forest to external forest, which changes the entire ecosystem of a quarter of the park, changes bird migration, amphibian breeding.”

Republican Legislator John Testa, whose district includes Cortlandt, says he would have signed the letter to FERC if he served on the Parks Committee. He says he remains concerned about the project and will continue monitoring.

“I’ll continue to make my concerns known and hopefully there’ll be an opportunity for us to continue the conversation with the federal-level people who actually will be making the decisions.”

Harckham says Spectra officials have expressed willingness to negotiate with the county.

“Negotiation is one possibility,” says Harckham. “Litigation is the other possibility.”

Again, Spectra’s Hanley.

“We work very cooperatively with the landowners or the parks board and we will try to meet any concerns or address any concerns or issues that are raised,” says Hanley.

FERC is responsible for greenlighting the expansion project. If all regulatory permits are in place, Spectra could begin construction in spring 2015.

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