The proposed Algonquin Pipeline Expansion has been an area of contention throughout the region over the past few months, and last week Westchester County Legislators were focused on the impact the project would have on the Blue Mountain Reservation in Cortlandt.
During a two-hour fact finding meeting in White Plains, representatives of Spectra, which will head the project, explained the scope of the work that will be done while addressing the impact that construction will have on park land.
According to Spectra Regional Director Jim Luskay, the project would see the removal of a 26 inch pipe that has been in the park since 1952 and runs between Washington Street and Maple Avenue. That would be replaced with a new 42 inch line that would follow the same route as the old pipe. Luskay explained that there is another 30 inch pipeline in the park, which runs adjacent to the current 26 inch pipe, but said that there are currently no plans for expansion on that structure.
Under an agreement with the county that pertains to the current 26 inch pipe, Spectra has a permanent six- foot easement around the pipe, as well as a 75-foot maintenance easement, which is used every few years. According to Christine Fazio, an attorney for Spectra, 100 to 130 foot areas along the pipeline would also need to be utilized during the construction process. This could be accomplished by the county granting a revocable license to use the land as opposed to issuing an easement.
Fazio explained that if Spectra was granted the license they could negotiate terms including compensation and mitigation for the area, but county legislators were still concerned about the impact that the use of this amount of land would have on the park. Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D/Greenburgh) was especially concerned that the county would not be able to utilize parkland alienation legislation because Spectra would be given eminent domain in the area once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants them a certificate to go forward with the project. In addition, Spectra could seek legal action if they are granted the certificate and the county does not negotiate a revocable license.
“You’re disturbing our parkland,” said Shimsky.
“We do have major concerns…about the revocable license where there’s an expanded amount of property for a certain amount of time. That’s the area that could change the complexion of the park. It affects wetlands, it affects many mature trees, it could affect the operations of the park,” added Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia.
Planning Chairman Peter Harckham noted that although Spectra said that they would do an environmental assessment to determine what type of plant life is in the area and what trees will need to be removed, the county will need to do their own environmental assessment in the near future. In addition to the removal of trees, Shimsky was concerned about what impact the relocation of boulders and other materials in the area would have on the park.
Director of Park Facilities, Dave DeLucia, noted that even though he participated in a recent walkthrough of the area with Spectra representatives, the full impact of the work can’t be determined until Spectra submits full construction plans outlining the path they plan to take in clearing the land.
DeLucia suggested that, in order to reduce impact to the park, Spectra should look into utilizing Montrose Station Road, a seasonal roadway owned by the Town of Cortlandt, which runs through the park but has been closed to regular traffic for several years. Although Spectra would need town permission to use the road during their construction process, DeLucia noted that it would provide a more direct route in and out of the area and might possibly reduce the number of trees that need to be removed.
The proposed work would also temporarily affect six trails in the Blue Mountain Reservation; two major ones and four small ones. Luskay acknowledged that these trails will need to be shut down at some point during the construction process, but stated that Spectra are engaging in continuing discussions with park representatives and will work to ensure that no area is closed for too long.
“We understand that there are certain trails that do have a high volume of use, particularly for mountain biking, and they’re in locations where it looks like…we can keep those open the majority of time and allow safe use around the construction,” he said.
If all proper approvals are granted, Spectra would begin clearing the necessary land in the late winter or early spring of 2016 and anticipate work to be completed and the pipe to be in service by November of the same year. Harckham stated that, if that plan is to proceed, the discussion between the county and Spectra needs to be ongoing.
“We’re hearing that there’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done and a year from now is not that far away in construction time, especially if you’re talking about a license and needing tree surveys,’’ he said. “I think the pace of discussions really needs to be accelerated [for everybody] to make informed decisions.”
The next day, legislators heard testimony from Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi and others who are vehemently opposed to the pipeline expansion. The committee then penned a strongly worded letter to FERC about the project.
“We are shocked at the dramatic and negative impact that the proposed AIM Project construction
will have on the Blue Mountain Reservation, as expressed in the testimony obtained from
Spectra Energy, County Parks staff, and others,” the committee stated. “We are very troubled that Spectra Energy only met with the County’s professional Parks staff, for the first time, last Friday, November 7, 2014, – and not January 24, 2014 as stated in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) – to review the project impacts and visit Blue Mountain Reservation. This initial walkthrough generated “major concerns” by professional Parks staff on impacts to the natural resources and recreational uses of the park which would be caused by the large Additional Temporary Workspace Areas and additional clearances sought by Spectra Energy.”