NORTH CANTON — Nearly 1,000 people attended public scoping meetings held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week in Ohio and Pennsylvania to hear testimony regarding the proposed Independence Pipeline.
Interested groups and individuals could present either written or oral comments in support or opposition of the natural gas pipeline at any of the meetings. The meeting in North Canton drew the largest crowd of nearly 400, with approximately 75 individuals signing in to speak, although the three-hour meeting was too short to hear from all the registered individuals.
The Tiffin meeting drew 315 spectators, 35 who registered to speak; the Butler, Pa., scoping meeting drew 225, with between 35-40 registering to speak (20 of those individuals yielded their time to an attorney representing a group of landowners); and a session in Ridgeway, Pa., drew between 30 and 40 people and six or seven individuals who spoke.
Independence, ANR Pipeline Company and National Fuel yielded the opportunity to speak at the meetings to allow more time for comments from registered individuals.
The $678 million proposed natural gas pipeline would stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Leidy, Pa. (Clinton County). Of the approximate 400 miles of pipeline, about 220 miles would be in Ohio and 179 miles would be in Pennsylvania.
The meetings are designed to discover concerns the public may have about the proposal and to focus on environmental issues related to the pipeline.
At the North Canton meeting attended by Farm and Dairy, basically all of the comments opposed the pipeline. Several speakers’ comments were supported with emotional applause and in several instances speakers received standing ovations.
Wayne County Commissioner Cheryl A. Noah received perhaps the most vocal support for her statements, which accompanied a resolution from the Wayne County commissioners opposing the installation as currently proposed. Earlier, the Wayne County Landowners Association had submitted an alternate Wayne County route along an abandoned railroad route for the record.
Noah said a one-time, upfront easement payment is not fair compensation for the indefinite use of the land and requested annual, ongoing payments, particularly since the “restrictions placed on adjacent property create a real reduction in land values.”
Noah said the county requires bonding for the construction phase across publicly-owned areas and requested a similar long-term bonding program for all affected privately-owned properties.
She also expressed concerns about the possibility of the right-of-way being used for fiber optics. “At that time, it may cease to be a utility and is a private use conduit and the rights of eminent domain do not apply.”
A staff member from U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula presented letters of opposition from the congressman and from state Sen. Scott Oelslager and state Rep. Bill Harris. State representatives Ron Amstutz, Twyla Roman, Johnnie Maier and Sean Logan also attended the North Canton meeting to enter oral and written comments in opposition to the pipeline.
Logan said the proposed 473-mile pipeline is a “monumental project and deserves very serious consideration,” but expressed doubt that the demand for the natural gas is real.
“The impact on individual landowners is far greater than any self-generated demand,” he said. “The landowners have no recourse but to negotiate. And it is that threat of eminent domain that forces the negotiations.”
Numerous farmers spoke out with concerns over damage to subsurface drainage tile systems in place on farmland that would be crossed by the proposed pipeline. Ernie Boss said the current proposed line would cross 16 acres on his Wayne County farm, but by cutting through existing tile, the project would affect more than 160 acres drained by the system.
“This project is like the Titanic when it comes to tiling,” Boss said. “The construction easement is just the tip of the iceberg.”
With his written statement, Boss attached a yield map from his combine monitor showing a yield of 37 bushels/acre on a nine-acre parcel of his farm with an existing pipeline through it. An adjoining parcel yielded 52 bushels. Boss estimates the loss in yield to total $100/acre.
Pipeline and FERC representatives also visited a few sites of the proposed pipeline in the vicinity of each meeting.
Four sites in Columbiana County were visited. During those visits, both FERC and pipeline officials stressed to Farm and Dairy that failure to talk to pipeline representatives in the planning stages could be more damaging than landowners realize.
Individual landowners can suggest alternate routes across their land, such as along fencerows or in marginal land, or inform officials of hidden environmental or social concerns. After the draft and final environmental impact statement are formed, there is little a landowner can do to alter the pipeline route on his land, should FERC issue the final certificate and give the project the go-ahead.
Information gathered at the meetings will be used to prepare the draft Environmental Impact Statement. FERC and Foster Wheeler Environmental Corp., FERC’s environmental consulting firm on the Independence project, will review all written and oral comments presented to date in drafting the EIS.
FERC will also evaluate possible alternatives to the proposed project or project routes.
A 45-day public comment period will follow the publication of the draft EIS and revisions will be made as necessary.
FERC may either deny the pipeline application, approve it, or approve it dependent on certain conditions outlined in its final certificate.