Feb. 14--FAIRMOUNT TWP. -- Williams Companies' $2.59 billion Atlantic Sunrise expansion of the Transco interstate pipeline is continuing to progress.
The project involves running pipeline from Susquehanna County south through Wyoming, Luzerne, Columbia, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Lebanon counties, to connect to an existing part of the Transco in Lancaster County.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, the new Central Penn Line segment would begin at an existing compressor station in Columbia County; parallel the Transco pipeline through Fairmount, Ross, Lehman, Lake and Dallas townships; run through Wyoming County and end in Susquehanna County.
Unlike the proposed 114-mile PennEast pipeline, which would run from Dallas Township to Mercer County, N.J., Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said most of the Atlantic Sunrise project in Luzerne County consists of "looping" -- expanding the existing right-of-way and adding more pipeline along the Transco line.
In March 2015, Williams filed its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves all interstate pipeline projects. The agency is compiling a draft environmental impact statement, which involves reviewing extensive data about the proposed route.
"Hopefully in March we'll see that," Stockton said.
When the draft environmental impact statement is released, there will be public meetings to gather input, and the final environmental impact statement usually comes out four to six months later, he said. After that, the commission makes its decision. If the timeline holds, construction could start in the summer, Stockton said.
Some landowners along the Atlantic Sunrise route have had issues with the location of the pipelines on their property.
"As a general rule, the (draft environmental impact statement) is going to address a lot of these specific landowner issues that have been raised," Stockton said. "The route is not finalized."
There is the potential FERC will tweak and change the route, he said, noting that Williams has changed about 50 percent of the route already.
Williams' Leidy Southeast expansion of the Transco, which involved adding four new loops of pipeline to the southern segment that runs through the Bear Creek area and modifying an existing compressor stations in Buck Township, is now complete and went into service on Jan. 5, Stockton said.
Endangered plant incident
Michael Giamber says about 4,045 feet of the Atlantic Sunrise project would be on his Fairmount Township property, paralleling the existing Transco pipeline.
Over the summer, environmental scientists came to survey the pipeline route.
In a wetland area Giamber says was created when the Transco line was installed in the late 1950s, they discovered a plant that is on the federal endangered species list: Scirpus ancistrochaetus, the Northeastern Bulrush.
It was the first reported population of the plant in Luzerne County, according to a report by the environmental surveyors.
But in October, contractors from Williams came in with heavy machinery and clear-cut everything along the Transco pipeline right-of-way -- including the Northeastern Bulrush, Giamber said. Nobody contacted him before it happened, he said.
"This is still private property, even though they have an easement on it," Giamber said.
Stockton said Williams does have the authorization to maintain the easements and keep them clear of brush.
However, he confirmed via email that, "during routine vegetation maintenance of our existing pipeline right of way in Luzerne County, we did inadvertently mow over (Northeastern) Bulrush."
On realizing what happened, Williams self-reported the incident to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission, Stockton said.
"At this time, we do not anticipate (or we are not aware of) any enforcement action since the incident occurred on our pipeline right of way," Stockton stated. "However, we are currently working with the agency to develop best practices to ensure the plant is restored and protected during future right of way maintenance activities."
One of the things Williams is discussing with the Fish and Wildlife Commission is the development of a site restoration plan by a botanist with specific knowledge of the Northeastern Bulrush, he said.
But the incident fueled Giamber's concerns about landowners' rights, particularly in light of what is happening with pipeline development in the region.
"They've got a machine gun, and you're bringing a knife to the fight," he said of the pipeline companies. "They have an office full of attorneys, and you don't. They have billions of dollars, and you don't. They have the power of eminent domain, and you don't."
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