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Kinder Morgan, Community Meet On Pipeline Proposal

Kinder Morgan ramped up efforts to educate communities about a pipeline project that would move fracked natural gas across the Northeast.

The proposed Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline would run through the upstate New York towns of Schodack, Nassau and Stephentown. Developer Kinder Morgan held a community forum Thursday night at Birch Hill Catering in Castleton-on-Hudson.

Kinder Morgan employees clad in blue shirts manned tables and booths in the hall, exhibiting the many facets of their $5 billion Northeast Energy Direct pipeline plan.  Each "blue shirt" possessed certain expertise relating to the pipeline project and its various phases - some had videos to assist in the explanation process, others offered maps and handouts.

This was the third of three Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, L.L.C. community forums held in the region this week.   Residents in communities along the pipeline route have been fearful, and in some cases, strongly resist the idea.

Allen Fore, Vice President of Public Affairs for Kinder Morgan, says installing the pipeline is not the end of the world for any given community - adding that the company already safely operates over 800 miles of pipeline in New York.    "The purpose of meetings like tonight is to educate folks. To have people here to talk specifically about engineering, about construction, about environmental issues, about safety, land and right-of-way, so that they can fully understand what is involved with the construction process and why we have pipelines and what they do and how important they are to the infrastructure of New York. We've been doing this here for a very long time. We're talking about doing more of the same thing. And it's nothing new. It's very much the same type of construction, the same type of restoration. This is a process with very vigorous oversight from the state and federal government."

Credit WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas
Pros face-off against cons, lining the sidewalk outside Birch Hill Catering, Castleton-on-Hudson, NY

Supporters and opponents of the pipeline plan were gathered outside, divided by the sidewalk that led into the banquet hall.

Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline co-founder Bob Connors:  "We gotta deal with the pro-union guys over here who think they're gonna get a lotta jobs. They won't."  Connors says most of the people Kinder Morgan hires are from outside the state.   "These guys refuse to believe that."

Anthony Fresina is a spokesman for Laborer's Local 190:    "We represent I would say about 200 families in this area, that live in this area, that pay taxes in this area, and we think it would be good for the economy and it means local jobs, local people, they'll spend the money in the town, they'll spend the money at places like this, gas stations around the area, and everything else. Supermarkets, things like that, so we're for it."

Sand Lake councilman Mark Cioffi disagrees - he represents the town board's infrastructure committee.  "This is too sophisticated a project for them to have our local unions, have never worked in compressor stations, never laid pipe in this kind of environment, they have special equipment to do it. These guys aren't gonna get jobs. If they get a hundred jobs out of this for a six-month period, that'd be the end of it."

107th district Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin says regardless of political affiliation, all of the elected officials in the area stand opposed to the pipeline.   "I'm not a knee-jerk, anti-pipeline guy. They're all over the place, all over the country. They're necessary in some regards to move the product to market. All of that being said, that doesn't mean I'm just gonna willingly say 'go ahead and come ripping through my Assembly district' and ask my constituents to be exposed to all the risk without a single little bit of a reward. There's nothing in this."

McLaughlin believes resident's safety concerns are justified. He cites the siting of the compressor station as another issue, and hopes that it and the pipeline could be located away from more populated areas. Many have suggested the pipeline follow the New York State Thruway.

Save Burden Lake describes itself as a "grass-roots organization that formed to oppose the NED pipeline and compressor station that would be built 2,500 feet from the southern shore of Burden Lake."

The very vocal group's Terry Nord has many concerns.     "We've talked about emissions, we've talked about the location of the compressor station, which are still up in the air at this time, leaving the residents in here very unsettled."

Nord criticized the timing of the community forums, so close to the holidays, which she says made it impossible for many who would like to have attended. Nevertheless, she made the rounds, hearing concerns of fellow-citizens.    "We've been talking blowdowns, where there are literally tons of gaseous emissions, including benzenes. We're talking about formaldehyde, which they deny, We're talking about radon. This is not clean gas, and I have to tell you when I started this back in July, I was under the impression that natural gas is a clean energy source, and that's a mistake. This gas is coming from the Marcellus Shale region. It is wet gas, which means it contains the chemicals that are part of the fracking process. Those chemicals get weaned out of the gas as it moves along through the compressor station and gets condensed and then re-pressurized to move along the gas pipeline. So it is dirty gas. It does release chemicals and toxins into our ground, should a pipe fail."

Nord notes the area where the compressor station is being proposed is a residential, recreational community. Nassau Town Supervisor David Fleming:  "At full buildout it could be the second largest compressor station on the east coast, which is even more of a problem. We're familiar with compressor stations, we have one in Chatham, just south of our border, currently existing as 1/9th the size of the compressor station they're proposing in Burden Lake, and it's a PCB site, it's a brownfields, and that certainly doesn't have a place in our community."

Fleming adds the town has offered Kinder Morgan "better locations that make more sense." 

Credit WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas
Kinder Morgan representatives interact with forum-goers.

Kinder Morgan says gas is filtered at compressor stations. 

Extended audio: a conversation with the project manager of the compressor station.

Councilman Cioffi says he's researched the pipeline project and the compressor station thoroughly - he says there may be room for compromise.   "I don't wanna put Kinder Morgan out of business. They're in business to make money. I expect them to make money. But I also expect them to be cognizant of what takes place within our local environment and with the people they're affecting negative. If they can lower the impact on this, and have a less negative impact on the environment and the negative impact on the people in the surrounding areas that they're running led this program, I'll be honest with ya, I'd support it."

Nord's anti-pipeline stance is strong: she thinks Kinder Morgan isn't as transparent as they'd like the public to believe.    "Kinder Morgan has lied to us since they involved Nassau in this process. So they come here tonight with the company line, and it is not consistent with the literature and the research that's out there. So now they can go back to FERC and say they did their community forum, they were good neighbors, when in truth, they've come and told us the same lies and fallacies that they've been telling us all along. And that's not okay."

Pipeline opponents have scheduled a public forum for January 23rd at the First Reformed Church in Bethlehem - Bob Connors says activists are planning to step up their efforts as they move their operations and opposition into southern Albany County in the New Year.

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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