A few weeks ago I posted a correction to the blog where I was talking about PennEast rerouting at the Appalachian Trail crossing (you can get it here https://thecostofthepipeline.com/2015/04/28/clarification-on-appalachian-trail-route-change-in-march-2015/). Basically PennEast had made a number of errors in their scoping response and organizations involved with the A.T. wanted to set the record straight.
At the time there were still some dangling issues that had to be figured out before a formal response could be filed. It appears that the Appalachian Mountain Club has done their homework there and followed through, and their response has hit the FERC docket today:
What I think I love the most about this comment is how specific it is. It lays out in detail exactly what PennEast got wrong and then painstakingly corrects all of their mistakes, and demands that PennEast responds with at least the same level of detail if not more. After they describe the information they provided and their preferred resolutions, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) writes:
In March and April of 2015, the applicant submitted several documents to FERC responding to the comments received to-date, a response to scoping comments on March 13th, a supplemental response to scoping comments on March 26th, and another supplemental response to scoping comments on April 27th.345 In response to these filings by the applicant, the AMC notes that the applicant failed to meaningfully respond to the comments submitted by the AMC and other stakeholders, and failed to adequately consider the comments received in re-routing portions of the preferred alternative, most notably, regarding the crossing of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
They then list the scenarios where PennEast did not address their concerns, starting with:
In the comments AMC submitted in February, it was stated that the applicant had not demonstrated appropriate strategies to avoid and minimize damages to recreational and natural resources of public lands, particularly the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and provide for mitigation where impacts were unavoidable. AMC asserted that the preferred route should be realigned adjacent to existing infrastructure which would minimize disruption and fragmentation of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail by a new right-of-way. In particular, we recommended that the project cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail adjacent to an existing power line west of the Delps Trail as one example of a location where co-alignment could be achieved to minimize impacts. The National Park Service (NPS), the agency that owns and manages the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, offered similar suggestions for re-routing the proposed project, and even included maps illustrating preferred routes adjacent to existing infrastructure at four different places nearby the original route.
Their findings on PennEast’s response?
The applicant seemingly ignored these recommendations in moving the preferred route to the west of its original route, at location that was not suggested by the National Park Service, AMC, or Appalachian Trail Conservancy7 (the commenters). In the applicant’s Supplemental Response to Scoping Comments, dated April 27th, PennEast gives a summary, one-sentence response to the concerns of the commenters: “The proposed crossing of the Appalachian Trail has been realigned to avoid federal lands and sensitive habitats.”.8
AMC disputes the applicant’s claim that the realignment avoids federal lands and reiterates the previously submitted comments on the docket of the AMC, NPS and ATC in that the preferred route should be realigned to be adjacent to existing infrastructure where it is proposed to cross the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Despite the applicant’s statement that the realignment avoids federal lands, the realigned route still crosses Federal lands as illustrated by the maps submitted on the docket by NPS9, and still violates 30 U.S.C. § 185, appearing to cross the Appalachian Trail at tract #331-09, a National Park Service owned easement.
The preferred route realignment would create a new right-of-way crossing the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, a condition that the commenters seek to avoid and which the applicant appears to have dismissed without response. A new right-of-way crossing comes with steep costs: forest fragmentation, noise pollution, habitat destruction and the propagation of invasive species, and negative impacts to the outdoor experience of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail’s many visitors, including a loss of the scenic beauty, quiet solitude, and sense of wilderness which makes the trail a national treasure for long-distance and day hikers. The applicant should be required to propose a preferred alternative during pre-filing that is realigned to avoid the creation of a new right-of-way, as was suggested by AMC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the National Park Service.
They then go on to list numerous other issues in PennEast’s response in relation to negative upstream and downstream impacts of the proposal, issues with dependent impacts, citation of out dated research to support gas-fired compressor stations as opposed to electrical, and ignoring pending guidance on greenhouse gasses and climate change.
I urge everyone to download their comments and read them in full, they are a perfect model of how to get people’s attention and force PennEast to respond. They close with this statement:
In conclusion, the responses to the comments of AMC by the applicant are incomplete and misrepresent the recent realignment of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail crossing as a meaningful response to public comments received. The applicant should be required to follow the recommendations of the AMC, NPS and ATC in realigning the Appalachian National Scenic Trail crossing to be adjacent to existing infrastructure and provide substantive responses to the other issues raised by the AMC and the thousands of other individual citizens, stakeholder groups and agencies who took the time to write comments or to speak at hearings. AMC requests that the applicant submit a more comprehensive response to these concerns in the docket before the conclusion of the pre-filing period.
Note how in the end they call for PennEast to “submit a more comprehensive response to these concerns in the docket before the conclusion of the pre-filing period”. This is a smart call, don’t let PennEast squirm away from this on a technicality and let it slide before pre-filing closes.
Well done, AMC. Well done.