Wetland worries: Riverkeeper raises concerns
PIKE COUNTY, PA — After visiting Pike County wetlands in Milford Township slated for restoration related to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s (TGP) 300 Line Project, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) has charged associated regulatory agencies with negligence in protecting amphibian life.
DRN collected video footage and photographs at the site located on PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) land on May 11. According to a press release issued by DRN, the purpose was to videotape juvenile amphibians to document for the public and the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the diverse juvenile and adult frog, toad and newt populations in the wetland.
On May 7, DRN sent a letter to TGP and other state and county agencies (see tinyurl.com/7fwvs9c) requesting a delay on restoration work due to the amphibian activities. According to Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum, that letter went unanswered, and on May 12, TGP crews pumped down the water level in the wetlands.
“One day after documenting the abundant life, Tennessee Gas quickly drained down the wetlands, apparently with the knowledge of state and local agencies,” wrote van Rossum. “The result was to wipe out some of the emerging life within.
Rather than order the delay, it seems that state and local officials either acquiesced or perhaps even supported the devastating actions.
“We believed we would have more time to influence the PADEP to delay the wetlands work or as a last resort, that we would have time to mobilize a corps of volunteers and concerned citizens to help relocate some of the amphibians to nearby wetlands out of the pipeline corridor,” added van Rossum.
According to TGP spokesperson Gretchen Krueger, TGP representatives met at the site on May 9 with Tim Balch, DCNR Assistant District Forester, and Bradley Elison, DCNR District Forester, to discuss the concerns of the Riverkeeper and restoration plans for the area. “During the meeting, it was determined by all in attendance that the restoration activities should continue as planned,” Krueger wrote in an email.
“TGP is following a restoration plan that was approved by the DCNR, DEP and other agencies prior to beginning activities at the site,” Krueger continued. “All activities conducted at this site have met all applicable permit conditions and have been consistent with the discussions we had with DCNR, DEP and the Pike County Conservation District (PCCD).”
According to Krueger, on May 12, TGP pumped the water level down to approximately one foot in order to install a travel lane so that TGP would have access to initiate restoration activities on the east side of Savantine Creek. “We are accessing through this wetland to avoid having to impact Savantine Creek and the associated wetland complex to meet a request by PCCD that we avoid crossing Savantine Creek if possible,” she wrote.
Krueger noted that precautions were taken to prevent the entrainment of aquatic life, that no protected species were involved and that there are no permit conditions that prohibit construction during this time window.
Krueger said that TGP was not aware of DRN’s interest in relocating the amphibians to another habitat. “Had we received such a request, we would have been happy to work with DRN to facilitate their request, if feasible,” she wrote. DRN contends that TGP restoration activities should have commenced sooner during mild winter conditions earlier this year to avoid the current situation.
This is not the first time DRN has identified concerns over the project. According to a letter sent by DRN to regulatory agencies earlier this year, the PCCD cited numerous violations, including 17 instances of dirt and sediment being discharged into water bodies, seven violations for worksite conditions and 21 instances of failure to properly institute Best Management Practices for erosion and sediment control.
DEP environmental community relations specialist Colleen Connolly said that DEP officials have conducted numerous inspections of the 300 Line Project and that the agency is aware of the DRN’s concerns.
“The department is currently conducting an investigation into the matter with the PCCD and will evaluate any actions at the conclusion of that investigation,” she specified in an email. “TGP has obligations associated with all areas requiring restoration along the pipeline.” DEP will also consider how that evaluation may apply to other restoration areas as well.