Clarification on Appalachian Trail Route Change in March 2015

A few days ago I posted my article detailing the route changes between January and March of 2015:

After the article was published Bill Steinmetz contacted me. Bill is a member of the Trails Committe of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. He emailed to let me know that my description of the Appalachian Trail pipeline re-routing was incorrect. In that section I said:

PennEast moved the trail in this section at the request of the trail maintainers“.

Bill let me know that the various AT organizations (local and nationally) did not ask PennEast to move the pipeline where they did. In fact, they objected to the route being a virgin cut across the trail, and asked that PennEast co-locate the pipeline along an existing corridor crossing. There are in fact three scoping comments on the docket from various A.T. people saying exactly that.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) posted this:

…which said in part:

Any new impacts associated with the proposed development shall coincide with existing major impacts to the Trail experience

and went on to point out the issues with the route:

Based on the updated project maps provided by PennEast to the FERC on January 16, 2015, the pipeline would cross the A.T. on lands administered by the National Park Service Appalachian Trail Park Office and the Pennsylvania Game Commission in an area of undeveloped mature forest. […] pipeline construction would require clearing of vegetation for a 100-foot-wide construction right-of-way (ROW) and maintenance of a 50 ft. unforested permanent ROW after construction. [Based on the ATC’s policy above] we believe this site is an inappropriate location for the pipeline“.

They then go on to list several co-location alternatives that would be more acceptable.

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) also posted to the FERC:

They likewise objected to the new pipeline route through mature forest and state:

The applicant has failed to propose meaningful measures that would avoid or minimize these damages to the AT. AMC believes that co-alignment with existing transportation corridors, such Interstate 476 and/or Route 33, could greatly reduce the overall impact to AT and other public lands used for recreation. To minimize impacts, if co-alignment with existing transportation corridors is not feasible, AMC suggests that FERC should include an alternative siting location that co-aligns the project with the existing power line west of the Delps Trail, rather than creating an entirely unnecessary new right of way“.

This seems pretty clear to me – what PennEast proposed was an awful site, and they’d like to see it moved to somewhere where damage has already been done.

Finally a trail committee member, Dan Scwartz, made a submission as well:

Dan says:

I volunteer maintaining the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT) and personally spend over 100 hours a year working to support the trail. I am concerned about new fragmentation of the forest along the trail. New
cuts through the forest create openings for invasives and also cause fragmentation of contiguous forest cover which impacts some species of wildlife. I would like to see this new pipeline co-aligned along existing infrastructure particularly in areas where it crosses forested lands such as the AT. For instance, in this case, the pipeline could be co-aligned with a powerline crossing of the AT that is a short distance away from the proposed AT crossing (between Delps and Little Gap.)“.

In all it’s abundantly clear that various organizations behind the A.T. are against new energy projects crossing the trail at new locations.  The cumulative damage to the trail area is unfathomable, and pipeline companies and other energy projects should strive to co-locate to save the peaceful nature of the trail and avoid further fragmentation of the forest and all of the problems that creates.

Instead PennEast chose to simply move the trail a half mile to the west on a different fresh cut across the trail area.  It’s not clear why this was done, but it’s possible they did it to avoid state and federal lands.  I’m still looking at this aspect, if I get any more details I’ll post them here.

In closing I’d like to apologize Bill, the A.T. conservation organizations, and all the trail maintainers out there for my gaffe, and thank them for sending in a correction.

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Mike Spille

I'm a thinker, an analyzer, a synthesizer. Maybe not in that order. I live in West Amwell NJ with my wife Kristina, our two kids Day and Z, our two dogs Fern and Cinna, and three cats Ponce de Leon, Oliver, and Doolittle.

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