BETHLEHEM – Town Board members are promising to do what they can, given their small amount of legal power, to prevent Kinder Morgan’s latest pipeline from travelling through town.
During its Wednesday, Jan. 27 meeting, the board promised to pass a resolution against the proposed Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline, which would travel through Bethlehem. Approximately 30 residents approached the board to air their grievances on the project, in what Councilwoman Julie Sasso remarked as the most public comment she has ever seen in her two years on town board.
Though the board has little power in preventing the pipeline, given the decision on the approval or disapproval of the pipeline will be made in Washington by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the town’s resolution aims to put pressure on higher governing boards to take a stand.
“This is a fight we are not going to win with the best argument, but with the loudest roar,” said Councilman David VanLuven. “We need every county on board, every town, in order for us to get noticed.”
As well, the town plans to file for official intervener status against the pipeline to Kinder Morgan, and plans to provide more details about the pipeline on the town website.
The Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline comes from Texas-based Kinder Morgan, the country’s largest pipeline company. A 350-mile pipeline spanning five states, and carrying gas from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, NED would travel directly through privately owned property in North Bethlehem and Selkirk, and through the towns of New Scotland and Berne.
With so many resident voices heard at the Bethlehem Town Board meeting, all in opposition, the board promised to present and pass a resolution at the next Town Board meeting, on Wednesday, Feb. 10. The resolution will formally oppose the proposed pipeline and instruct state and federal legislators to take action to disallow the project.
While Kinder Morgan cites its record of having no past explosions on any of its pipelines, several residents spoke about their fear of potential explosions occurring along the pipeline, especially because the town does not have a map of where pipelines lie, which would help first responders in the event of such an incident.
“We don’t have the info on where the pipelines are. If it was a subdivision application, it would show where the gas pipelines were, but we don’t have a map,” said Rob Leslie, planning director for the town of Bethlehem. Supervisor John Clarkson promised to make that happen.
Three pipelines are installed in town. One dates back to the early 1950s, one to the 1980s, and one, the Connecticut pipeline, also owned by Kinder Morgan, is in the process of construction, after being approved by FERC several months ago. While this newest proposed pipeline is not the first to run through town, the opposition to it has been the strongest yet. While no voices were heard in support of the pipeline at the most recent Town Board meeting, when the Connecticut, several union workers spoke on behalf of Kinder Morgan, and the care with which pipelines are installed.
According to Supervisor John Clarkson, people have been calling Town Hall to ask whether the new pipeline would be going through their property, but the town simply does not know that information, as it would need to create its own comprehensive map of all of these pipelines. The NED pipeline map itself has also gone through numerous hard to track incarcerations since its initial application was made to the FERC in September, further complicating matters. But, as of now, the best resource about the pipeline’s route is from Kinder Morgan directly.
Under eminent domain, should the pipeline be approved by the FERC, Kinder Morgan would be allowed to take privately owned land where the pipeline would run through. Those whose land would be affected should have already received mailed notice of this from Kinder Morgan, and may have seen land surveyors from the company come by. During a meeting held by the anti-pipeline group Stop New York Fracked Gas Pipeline (SNYFGP) many spoke of their run-ins with land surveyors who did not have permission to be on their land, and similar stories were told during the Town Board meeting. There, residents heard of the first documented instance of this happening in town. Keith Walsky, of Jericho Road in Glenmont, filed a police report after surveyors came to his property and trespassed without his permission. Kinder Morgan has denied such claims in the past.
“Anyone who observes someone trespassing should by all means call Bethlehem Police and they will respond,” instructed Supervisor John Clarkson.
No such incidents have been reported in the Town of New Scotland, where Supervisor Doug LaGrange said there have not been many opposed to the pipeline yet.
Supporters of natural gas note that burning natural gas emits about half the carbon-dioxide that burning coal does, potentially curtailing U.S. emissions, and buying the U.S. time to make the transition to cleaner forms of energy like wind and solar. Many homes today run on natural gas rather than oil, especially after a federal tax credit was offered until 2011 for upgrading to high-efficiency gas-burning furnaces.
Opponents, however, argue that the methane emitted by fracking for natural gas more than make up for that, as increased methane exposure has been linked to cancer and other health risks. Those opposed would also rather see the transition to solar energy be made sooner, rather than later, and the construction of the pipeline halted until a comprehensive health study is completed by the state, a view held by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.
Historic First Reformed Church of Bethlehem
Among the strongest opponents to the pipeline are members of the First Reformed Church of Bethlehem on Church Road in Selkirk, whose property the proposed pipeline will go through.
“One thing that has to be considered is the history of that property,” said Glenn Asher, a member of the church. “I was one of the young whippersnappers who planted the trees there. It’s taken a long time to get to the height they are now.” Given to the church by the Van Rensselaer family, the property is historically significant, and the church itself is over 220 years old. The pipeline would cross the church’s property bordering its cemetery. As such, the church leaders have become advocates against the pipeline, holding an oppositional meeting with the group Stop New York Fracked Gas Pipeline on Saturday, Jan. 23
The next Town Board meeting, where the referendum against the pipeline will be discussed, will be Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m.