Keeping up with inspections of two major pipeline projects in Pike County has consumed the limited resources of the small staff at the Pike County Conservation District (PCCD) since spring, when the 12-mile Columbia Gas Pipeline project kicked off, followed closely by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) expansion of its 300 Line. Both projects involve massive amounts of earth disturbance and multiple stream and wetlands crossings.
The projects have stretched PCCD resources to the limit as related issues multiply across the miles of raw earth (approximately 300 acres in Pike County) resulting from the clearing activities associated with right of way (ROW) expansion, access roads, staging areas and temporary workspace.
While the Columbia project is nearing completion as it works through the restoration phase, the project has managed to accumulate numerous violations and may be facing additional penalties. Meanwhile, PCCD staff have documented 45 violations with 16 pollution events impacting Pike County waters as a result of the TGP project activities, according to PCCD executive director Susan Beecher.
In Wayne County, conservation district resource conservationist Len Grover has logged 14 violations of varying severity on the TGP project, with some as simple as breached silt fences. Five others have involved pollution events with impacts to waters or wetlands and resulted in formal notices of violation.
Similar experiences in Susquehanna County have prompted several conference calls organized by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Northeast Regional Office with all three districts, TGP officials and TGP’s contractor Henkels and McCoy.
Both projects have suffered from excessive amounts of rainfall this year, but Beecher contends that the overarching problem lies in the approach taken. “The way that they’re constructed is not conducive to water resource protection,” she said. “These projects simply have too much pipeline right-of-way opened up for too long, sometimes months. Best Management Practice (BMP) maintenance is a constant challenge when miles of right-of-way are disturbed for long periods.
“We believe the pipeline companies should stage construction in critical areas, such as stream and wetland crossings and approaches, to limit the time between initial earth disturbance and final stabilization. Having the whole length of ROW disturbed at one time over a period of months is problematic for water resource protection.”
Beecher says she is hearing the same thing from the Susquehanna and Wayne Conservation District staff who are inspecting the TGP 300-line project in their counties, where the work is much farther along, but that pipeline project timelines sometimes dictate construction practices that are in conflict with water resource protection.
Differing standards are another problem. Beecher points out that normal construction projects, such as highways, are required to minimize the extent of earth disturbance at any time. Grover agrees. Seventeen miles of open turf in Wayne County have also presented ongoing challenges. “With any other construction process, we demand stabilization in four days,” he said. “In the case of the pipelines, DEP allows 60 days
from opening to closing the earth disturbance sites.”
Beecher noted that the things her staff is seeing go wrong are day-to-day maintenance of BMPs given the overwhelming acreage involved. “We’re seeing the same mistakes over and over again. We’re really frustrated. I do not trust the contractor and the company to manage this project to protect the resources of Pike County.”
With the rising number of violations, Beecher’s concerns are growing. “It’s scary to watch how this whole thing is unfolding,” she said. “I believe it’s time for this company to get assessed a penalty. When things are going wrong, when we have this many pollution events documented, I think DEP should be penalizing them as they go, not waiting until the end.”
El Paso Corporation spokesperson Penny Paul responded, “We are working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as with other state and local agencies, to resolve outstanding issues related to construction of Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s 300 Line Project.”
The conservation districts plan to continue addressing their concerns in hopes of improving outcomes for the next TGP project coming to Pike and Wayne counties—the Northeast Upgrade—which is in the planning phase now.