Inspection of farmland remains big question if pipeline approved


MASSILLON — Unless Ohio is successful in negotiating with ANR Pipeline Company to pay for special agricultural inspectors, farmers may have to rely on company inspectors to monitor the construction and cleanup process if the proposed Independence Pipeline is approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Funding does not currently exist on the local or state level for such inspectors.

The proposed 36-inch natural gas pipeline would stretch 400 miles from Defiance, Ohio, to Leidy, Pa. Approximately 220 miles in Ohio would cross Defiance, Henry, Wood, Seneca, Huron, Ashland, Wayne, Stark, Summit and Columbiana counties.

A final decision from FERC is still pending.

The Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts prepared an agricultural mitigation proposal that it is hoping will be a condition of any FERC certification for the pipeline, if approved. Although the Ohio Power Siting Board included the document in its public comments to FERC, it is not known whether it will be attached to final certification.

According to Kevin Elder, Ohio Division of Soil and Water, Ohio is negotiating directly with ANR to embrace the ag mitigation proposal as an umbrella guideline for construction on all Ohio agricultural production ground.

In it, ANR would pay for an independent ag inspector to act on local farmland owners’ behalf, making sure specified construction and replacement steps are followed. The proposed inspectors are for ag land only and would not monitor urban or rural, nonagricultural sites.

Approximately 80 people attending an informational meeting Dec. 1 at the R.G. Drage Career Center in Massillon learned just how important those agricultural inspectors could be.

For more than two hours, John E. Lacey, agriculture resource specialist with the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, described pipeline jobs he’s inspected since 1983. Punctuated by slides, Lacey’s presentation emphasized the importance of soil protection during construction, cleanup and restoration steps.

“This is what it’s all about — the fertility of your soil,” Lacey said.

Drainage and topsoil are the biggest concerns, Lacey said. It’s also important for the right-of-way to be wide enough to accommodate separate piles for topsoil and subsoil so the two are not mixed. Topsoil should be peeled off so compaction from heavy equipment takes place on the subsoil.

Drainage becomes a huge issue because the construction process removes natural barriers for water. There may be a need for lateral tile lines beyond the right-of-way to prevent the water from running down the pipeline.

Elder encouraged landowners to start taking pictures of fields along the proposed right-of-way to document existing conditions. He also recommended preparing files of soil structure documents, creating written plans of subsurface drainage systems (local FSA or SWCD offices should have soil and water information available to assist landowners).

“He with the most records wins,” Elder said. “You need to participate fully in this process.”

Lacey also encouraged landowners to identify all soil types in the proposed right-of-way, as well as the drainage capabilities of each and location of the existing water table.

Landowners should also consider seasonal precipitation records, temperature and frost dates and prenegotiate a second-year phase if the contractor cannot complete the restoration in the proper weather window.

Monitoring the site two years beyond the completion of the project is also important, Lacey said, and should be written into each easement contract. “It takes monitoring and two years of follow-up at a minimum,” he said. “That period of inspection should be absolutely guaranteed.”

If the proposed agricultural mitigation provisions are not a condition of FERC’s certification, Elder encourages individual ag landowners to attach the plan to any easement contract signed.


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