Coalition files appeal to review algonquin pipeline _ westfair communications

A coalition of New York environmental groups has joined a federal appeal requesting further consideration of the Algonquin natural gas pipeline.

Construction has already begun on the project, which is referred to as the Algonquin Incremental Marketing Project by the company behind it, Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Spectra Energy Partners LP. But an appeal filed on March 28 in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals requests the court review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve the pipeline expansion last year. The planned Algonquin pipeline expansion project.

The coalition includes the Ossining-based Riverkeeper Inc., Sierra Club Lower Hudson Valley Chapter, Food & Water Watch NY and the grassroots group Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion. The groups represent New York among 22 organizations and individuals petitioning in the suit. The coalition is represented by the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC in Washington D. C.

The $971.6 million project will expand and replace parts of an existing natural gas pipeline in four states—New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts—to carry additional natural gas north from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. The project will add 11.1 miles of 42-inch diameter pipeline and replace 26.3 miles total. The biggest chunk of the work will happen on about 20 miles of the line through Rockland, Westchester and Putnam counties in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Along that stretch is Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant in Buchanan. The pipeline will be about a half-mile from Indian Point’s security barrier at its closest point, according to the FERC approval filing .

It’s the proximity to the plant that has opponents to the line especially concerned.

In a statement following the filing of the appeal, Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay called it “disturbing” that the federal regulator “remains oblivious to the many potential dangers and pitfalls this project creates.”

“It is even more disturbing that FERC continues to ignore the real risks involved with running a gas pipeline adjacent to the property of an aging, problematic nuclear plant, which poses a great risk to the region even without this project,” Gallay added.

The approval of the pipeline has been challenged since the FERC first gave it. In January, the federal commission denied eight separate requests to reconsider its approval. The 90-day appeal window for those decisions was at the end of March, when the most recent court petition was filed.

One of the initial appeals argued that the study of risks the pipeline posed to Indian Point should have considered additional testimony. The final environmental impact statement the FERC approved relied in part on a site hazards analysis from Entergy Corp, the operators of Indian Point. The Entergy report found the pipeline “posed no increased risks” to Indian Point.

Entergy spokesperson Patricia Kakridas said Indian Point is inspected daily by the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and would not be permitted to continue operating the plant if it could not do so safely. She said Entergy worked with Spectra to add enhanced safety measures. Those measures include, she said, “increasing the thickness of the pipe, burying the pipe deeper, adding thicker corrosion protection and laying protective concrete mats over the pipe in the vicinity of the power plant.”

The NRC confirmed the site hazards analysis from Entergy during the review process and found in an additional analysis that even a breach and explosion of the pipeline would not impact safe operation of Indian Point.

The FERC decision in January on the appeal again confirmed those findings, saying it found “no basis to duplicate or contradict work performed by an agency with special expertise regarding nuclear power plant facilities.”

In February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has called on multiple occasions for both reactors at Indian Point not to be relicensed, wrote a letter to the FERC urging it to halt construction of the project, citing its proximity to Indian Point.

The protests of Cuomo, among others, have driven increasing attention to the project in national media. A headline in The Nation magazine read “ A High-Pressure Pipeline Next to a Nuclear Power Plant… What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” The New York Times published an article on the project at the end of February, reporting that the state Department of Environmental Conservation, at Cuomo’s request, planned to ask the FERC to reconsider and stay its prior certification of the Algonquin project. That request came on March 3. It asked the FERC to stay its approval so that the state could complete an independent review to determine whether the pipeline or its construction could impact operations at Indian Point.

But whatever pressure the FERC has felt, it has so far stayed with its initial approval. On March 25, the FERC denied the request from the state DEC , saying it found “nothing in the New York DEC’s current pleading that calls our findings regarding the safety… in the vicinity of the Indian Point facility into question.”

The city of Boston and township of Dedham, Massachusetts have also filed federal appeals related to the pipeline.

Misti Duvall, an attorney with Riverkeeper, said it’s unclear at this point when the appeal to the federal courts could be heard.

Marylee Hanley, director of stakeholder outreach for Spectra, said Algonquin Gas Transmission has filed a motion to intervene in the latest appeals case, a procedural step that will allow it to file a brief or potentially present an oral argument on why the court should deny the challenge.

According to a page dedicated to the pipeline on Spectra’s website, construction on the pipeline is expected to be completed by November.