PIKE COUNTY, PA — The controversial “wet crossing” of the Lackawaxen River began last week following ongoing delays due to unusual amounts of rainfall and hurricane impacts in the region. The crossing is nearing completion as crews from Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) and its contractor, Henkels and McCoy, work to fill the 15-foot-deep trench excavated during the ongoing expansion of TGP’s 300 Line Project.
Wet crossings are conducted in flowing water resulting in increased sedimentation below the excavation site. The practice has the potential to adversely affect aquatic life forms from macroinvertebrates to fish, and requires careful monitoring of turbidity levels.
Earlier this year, the Pike County Conservation District (PCCD) noted in its spring newsletter, “The District repeatedly voiced concerns during review of the Pike County portion of the project about a ‘wet crossing’ of the Lackawaxen River proposed at the project’s 11th hour by Tennessee Gas Pipeline. TGP’s construction plans and permit applications originally called for best management practices (BMPs) designed to divert flow around the trench excavation, which is the norm for in-stream work in Special Protection Waters such as the Lackawaxen. After much discussion and in spite of local concerns about the environmental impacts and impacts to recreational use of the River, the ‘wet crossing’ method was approved by DEP. [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection].”
Pike County commissioners and Lackawaxen Township supervisors considered an appeal of the permit, but opted instead for a TGP-proposed settlement whereby TGP would conduct the wet crossing during anticipated lower flows in August to fulfill the company’s time commitments and contractual obligations.
“The District remains concerned with the ‘wet crossing’ procedure, and believes that TGP should have been required to utilize an alternative crossing method which is less environmentally harmful and more compliant with the state’s antidegradation requirements,” concluded PCCD.
While the crossing was being finalized this week, Beecher updated the PCCD board at its October 17 meeting. “One of the things we’ve learned with this project is that everything takes longer than they tell us it’s going to. Things went pretty quickly to get the trench dug, but the trench kept filling in with material from the flows in the river, so it took them longer to get the depth they needed and to get the pipe into the trench.”
Even so, Beecher said, “It went about as well as we could have expected. We had some high turbidity measurements the first day.” Beecher expressed concerns that the backfilling of the trench and removal of the temporary bridge will create substantial sedimentation. PCCD staff will continue to take turbidity readings.
“All in all, it went relatively smoothly considering the magnitude of the project,” she added. “It certainly was not a totally clean project. The first day they were excavating, the river was pretty nasty looking and there was a plume of sediment in the Delaware River as far as we could see.”
Jerry Castillo, manager of the environmental permitting group at TGP’s parent company, El Paso Corporation, said that crews were working round the clock to get the crossing done. “There’s a level of urgency associated with what we’re doing,” he said. The company took samples at specified distances at least every three hours to record turbidity levels. Castillo said the numbers stayed within permit levels.
Beecher said there has been additional discussion about the crossing of Shohola Creek, which TGP has likewise proposed to change from a dry to a wet crossing. “We really raised objections to that and so did DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers. DEP was very supportive of our position that it needed to be done according to what was in the permit.”
Completion of the Shohola Creek crossing will conclude the major stream crossings in Pike County, but PCCD remains concerned about the pace of restoration. “We’re still having pretty frustrating discussions with TGP about getting restoration work done, particularly in some of the Exceptional Value stream corridors,” she said. “Their restoration crews are moving very, very slowly.”
Beecher noted that her staff has seen some improvement with BMP management, but that problems still exist. “The BMPs are overwhelmed because there’s so much area disturbed and they’re not designed to take the kinds of flows that they’ve been getting. It comes down to the fact that they’ve got too much earth disturbed to manage all of the BMP maintenance to prevent pollution.”
With the approach of TGP’s next project, the Northeast Upgrade Project (NUP) in 2012, PCCD is trying to mitigate impacts in advance. “We’ve had a couple of meetings with them and talked about the issues of disturbing less right of way at one time, but also, trying to get the restoration work done in a more timely manner. DEP is also pressing that issue and so are the other conservation districts that havebeen involved.”
El Paso spokesperson Penny Paul said environmental compliance is a priority for TGP and that the company adheres to federal, state and other regulatory processes related to permitting and reporting.
“We are committed to aggressively pursuing restoration activities,” she added. “It is our policy to fully protect the environment, while mitigating the adverse conditions we have faced. Our goal is to restore the area to its original condition. We will stabilize the area for the winter and complete final restoration next spring when conditions improve.”
One new concern surfaced just prior to the PCCD board meeting. Beecher shared the news that El Paso Corporation had been sold to Kinder Morgan for $38 billion. “It occurred to me that for $38 billion, maybe Tennessee Gas can do some of the restoration work that we’ve been pressuring them to get done. I’ll be following up on that.”