2017-10-11 / Front Page

Environmental assessment on tri-state gas pipeline will be done by January, feds say

by Kate Shunney

Federal officials will complete an Environmental Assessment on the proposed Eastern Panhandle natural gas line project by the end of January.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a notice on Thursday, October 5 that the agency’s Environmental Assessment for the project will be done by January 26, 2018.

Columbia Gas Transmission in March 2017 requested approval to build and operate a 3.4-mile natural gas connector line from an existing pipeline in Fulton County, Pa. through the Hancock area and into Morgan County. The project would include construction of an 8-inch greenfield pipeline with three main line valves and two tie-in assemblies.

Columbia has said it would run the line under the Western Maryland Rail Trail, C&O Canal National Historical Park and under the Potomac River to reach West Virginia.

The line would provide a gas supply to a proposed 23-mile natural gas distribution line from the Berkeley Springs area into Martinsburg. Mountaineer Gas of Charleston has committed to building that line if they can get a gas supply from Columbia Gas.

According to FERC, the project would “provide an additional 47.5 dekatherms per day of capacity for firm transportation service to markets in West Virginia through Mountaineer Gas Company’s gathering system.”

The federal energy agency said in their notice that they have received comments for the Environmental Assessment (EA) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, a number of environmental groups and 115 concerned citizens from the region.

“The primary issues raised by the commentors are: potential impacts on the Potomac River, karst features, groundwater quality, safety, climate change, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park,” the notice said.

The October 5 notice also alerted federal agencies that they must make a final decision about any federal permits sought by Columbia Gas for the project within 90 days of the environmental report being issued.

That deadline on April 26, 2018 does not apply to FERC’s decision on whether the entire project can proceed, said an agency spokesperson.

Instead, it would relate to approvals or permits being sought from agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or National Park Service.

Just a day before the notice, the EPA signed on as a cooperating agency to develop the Environmental Assessment for the pipeline project.

“Our role as a cooperating agency in support of the subject EA will consist of providing comments on general NEPA compliance and Clean Water Act (CWA), Section 404 issues as well as providing technical support in the development of the EA,” Barbara Rudnick wrote in a October 4 letter to FERC secretary Kimberly Bose.

Rudnick is National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Team Leader for the EPA’s Office of Environmental Programs.

In that letter, Rudnick wrote that the EPA could help in identifying “significant issues,” assist in analysis of “alternative and their environmental impact” and give technical assistance on “Environmental Justice, cumulative impacts, etc.”

Recently, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources notified Scott Kohne, Project Manager for the Columbia Pipeline Group, that the state’s Board of Public Works must decide if the pipeline can proceed under the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

In a September 22 letter filed on October 2 with FERC, Shane Johnston of the Maryland Park Service said the Board of Public Works would have to approve a permanent 50-ft. right of way at the rail trail before the Maryland Park Service (MPS) could make their own decision whether to give Columbia Gas access to the land west of Hancock for the pipeline.

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