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Officials Mull Schoharie Pipeline Proposals

A proposed 157-mile natural gas pipeline that would run through several Schoharie County communities, parallel to the proposed Constitution Gas Pipeline, has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone and other local officials have two pipeline proposals to deal with: The contentious Constitution Gas Pipeline and one planned by Tennessee Gas that would run alongside it.  North America's third-largest energy company is looking to file a pre-application with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in September.    "There are a given number of people in our town are what I call 'land rich,' and something like this, if it's on the back 40, where it’s not really problematic for them, they have no problem with it, without giving any consideration to what's happening to their neighbors. It could be in the back 40 on your property, but right next door it could be 200 feet from the household," said Milone.

Some 195 landowners across Schoharie County would be impacted by the proposed projects in one way or another.  There will be a year-long vetting process replete with debate at public hearings, discussion during community meetings and ample opportunities for public comment.

Tennessee Gas hopes to file for required permits in the fall of 2015, anticipating they will be approved by the fall of 2016. Ideally, gas would be flowing through the pipeline in 2018.

102nd District Assemblyman Pete Lopez says he is "distressed" that yet another pipeline is being proposed. The Republican wonders why existing lines' routes can't be expanded instead of developing new lines.  "I don't hear any discussion of providing low-cost natural gas to homeowners, schools or businesses in areas that are underserved or not served at all. And so, with Tennessee Gas I'm very cautious on their proposal. I don't think we need another pipeline coming through. We already have the Constitution, and that's supposed to provide substantial volume, if that does come through."

Lopez adds Tennessee Gas has not engaged his office directly.

Richard Wheatley is a spokesman for Kinder Morgan, Inc., the parent company of Tennessee Gas. He wouldn't go on tape , but cautions it is very early in the public process of hearings, meetings and the public comment period, and stresses the company does care about the people who own the land it would like to use for transporting energy.  On its website, Kinder Morgan cites growing energy needs in the Northeast as justifying pipeline installations.  Wright town supervisor Amber Bleau:   "Currently right now Tennessee Pipeline has pipelines going through the town of Wright, and they have been good neighbors to date."

But some other neighbors recall the March 1990 propane explosion in the village of North Blenheim, when gas somehow leaked out of an underground pipeline. The ensuing blast left two dead and five injured. Eight houses were destroyed, three others damaged. There have been several other "pipeline accidents" on record. But, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, transmission pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport energy.

Government officials, company representatives and local citizens plan to meet again in September. But as Milone, the Schoharie supervisor, says:  "What will happen in the final analysis, we don't know."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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