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September 17, 2014
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Caught in FERC legal limbo


For residents fighting the compressor station, the good news is that the relevant federal agency has agreed to a rehearing. The bad news is that the project may be completed before the rehearing is held.

The agency is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the project is the controversial Minisink compressor station being built by Millennium Pipeline Company. The project is opposed by a group called Stop the Minisink Compressor Station (StopMCS), which is comprised of residents who live within a half mile of the proposed site.

StopMCS has lodged health and safety concerns with FERC and were unable to stop the September 26 decision that allowed the project to go forward. Two of the five FERC commissioners agreed with StopMCS that an alternative site would be preferable. StopMCS took the matter to court and a federal judge issued a stay in early October, but after all five commissioners opposed the stay, it was lifted on October 12.

Now, the group would like to continue the case in federal court, and FERC has agreed to a rehearing. The case can’t go to federal court until the rehearing is held and FERC issues a final decision. In the meantime, Millennium is allowed to move forward with construction.

A spokeswoman for FERC, Tamara Young-Allen, wrote in an email that all decisions by the commissioners are subject to a rehearing, but “approved projects may proceed forward in accordance with the commission order as the commission reviews the appeal requests.”

One perhaps surprising feature about this process is that the commissioners can give themselves as much time as they want to review the matter, and that reviews in the past have been known to last years. Further, FERC is not required to give a date by which the decision will be made.

For Pramilla Malick, a member of StopMCS, that part of the process makes no sense. She said, “Our concern is that the further this proceeds along, it’s going to be much harder for a court to reverse. Even if they agree with us on the facts, they may say ‘now it’s a moot point because it’s already built.’

“This is a very well–thought, sophisticated game that gets played between the regulators and the industry, and it’s basically to evade the environmental regulations that are in place and to keep the public in the dark, or as distanced from the process as possible,” Malick said.

Another issue that is repeatedly raised by StopMCS is that another site, called the Wagoner Alternative, located some 10 miles away from the Minisink site, would serve Millennium and the public better and would impact fewer people. According to the StopMCS website, www.stopmcs.org, the Wagoner Alternative is already owned by the company and previously housed a compressor station.

There are 190 homes within 0.5 miles of the Minisink site with plans for 49 more houses. At the Wagoner site, there are no homes within .75 miles, and StopMCS claims there are numerous other advantages to the site, such as 44% fewer air emissions because the alterative site would require a smaller compressor station.

But Millennium claims it would “need to clear about 47.61 acres of forested land and use approximately 22 acres of cleared agricultural land to build on the Wagoner site, compared to 0.4 acres of forested land and 9.8 acres of agricultural land, for construction of the proposed Minisink station,” which would likely make the Wagoner site more expensive.

StopMCS disputes Millennium’s “tree clearing” claims because, Malick said, the company already owns the rights-of-way and thus the entire line is already cleared of trees and other vegetation. She said, “Their 47.61 acres number is absolutely false and emblematic of the many false statements they have made in this process.”

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Nan Heyworth is supporting the residents’ call for an expedited rehearing.

Further, 80 members of StopMCS visited the offices of Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand on October 18, and according to StopMCS both senators subsequently indicated that they are going to contact FERC and support the request of an expedited rehearing.