Albany - On Monday, May 11th, leading state and regional organizations sent a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens calling for full transparency in its review of the Constitution Pipeline (CP).
A decision on the proposed 124 mile long project to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania into New York and beyond now lies in the hands of the DEC, which must either approve or deny permits for trenching and blasting through nearly 300 rivers, streams, and wetlands in the project's path.
Facing stiff opposition from New Yorker's who are opposed to increased dependency on fossil fuels and landowners who have had their property rights taken by eminent domain, CP withdrew and resubmitted its application on April 29th so that the state would have more time to review the project. However according to a press release issued the same day by DEC, a decision from the state could be just around the corner. The same announcement said the public would have only 15 days to comment on the resubmitted application —despitee the fact that land surveys are still underway and significant information has not been released.
"This is a serious problem," said Mark Pezzati of Stop the Pipeline, the grassroots organization leading the fight against CP. "DEC appears to be on the brink of deciding whether or not to grant permits for this fracked-gas project, yet we've been told that the public only has a couple more days to comment on information that nobody has seen."
According to the company website that readers are directed to in DEC's press release, the last time CP updated its application to the state was in August of 2014.
"That's even before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) prematurely released its Final Environmental Impact Statement," said Wes Gillingham, Program Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "CP has conducted surveys since then, but no one has shared information from those surveys with the public."
In fact data collection is still underway. The pipeline company only recently gained legal access to over 100 parcels of land, and is now gathering information about streams, wetlands, and species that would be impacted.
"This project, if built, will have major impacts on the habitat of birds and other wildlife," said Andy Mason, Conservation Chair of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society. "How can we provide input on those significant natural resources if the comment period is shut down before data collection is complete?"
Nor has the company provided information on changes made in recent months.
"CP now wants to trench through thousands of linear feet of streams and wetlands that it previously proposed to drill underneath," said Keith Schue with Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. "Where is the analysis of those additional impacts and mitigation?"
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also raised numerous unanswered questions of CP regarding unsurveyed parcels, threatened and endangered species, lack of restoration, steep slopes, alternatives, and cumulative impacts.
"These are major concerns that DEC ought to share; we want to know what data will be used to evaluate them," insisted Robert Nied with the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities. "Rushing to judgment without facts betrays the public trust."
"By granting a few short days for people to comment on an incomplete application, DEC is following in the flawed footsteps of FERC," said Roger Downs, Conservation Director for the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We implore Commissioner Martens to step in."
In their joint letter to Martens, the groups call on DEC to post all information that CP has submitted to the agency and hold the public comment period open until at least 60 days after all of the information DEC will use to make a decision has been collected.
"This project stands to forever diminish the quality of New York's waterways and environment, threaten the safety of residents, undermine the character of the northern Catskill region, and damage the legacy of the Governor's administration," stated the letter.
The groups await a response from Commissioner Martens.