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Protest Planned at Pipeline Talk

The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.

Courtesy: Williams

The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system. Williams

Public meetings over the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline have drawn the ire of opponents in Lancaster County. This time, an activist group is planning to protest a meeting between the pipeline company and the local chamber of commerce.

The group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, says it’s organizing the protest to call attention to the environmental and community impacts of having the pipeline sited in the county.

“It threatens the values most Lancaster Countians hold dear–our farmland and rich heritage and history–and it opens the door for a lot more industrial projects for our farmland in the future,” said protest organizer, Nick Martin of Pequea Township.

Martin said about 50 protesters are expected to be outside the meeting, hosted by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The chamber had invited three representatives from Tulsa-based pipeline giant Williams to share information on the project.

The event is free for chamber members and $25 for non-members. Pre-registration for the event is mandatory.

Martin said about 10 people from his group have paid the ticket fee charged by the Chamber and will be inside the meeting to ask questions. But the protesters say the company has not met enough with them to hear their complaints.

Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, says the three-year public process the company is undergoing with the federal government to build the pipeline will provide ample opportunity for the public to be heard.

Stockton said the Lancaster meeting Tuesday was one of several the company has had to keep local officials apprised on the project.

“We were invited to give an update on project. We’re going to go, make ourselves available and answer peoples’ questions,” Stockton said.

The $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise is a planned expansion of Williams’ Transco pipeline system, and will bring gas from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Mid-Atlantic and southeast United States, including the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export terminal on the Chesapeake Bay.

If approved by federal regulators, it would cut through portions of 10 central Pennsylvania counties (Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Clinton and Lycoming).

The project has been met with considerable public push-back, especially in Lancaster County.

Tom Baldrige, president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the event is one of several his group has with business owners about topics of regional interest.

“We feel it’s very important to at least play a role to generate some information around this whole thing on both sides of the issue,” he said. “The alternative to running and hiding from tomorrow is just to not do it at all, and I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interest. Everybody is well aware there are people strongly opposed to this and have every right to show up and say so.”

In March, Williams submitted a formal application for the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)– the agency charged with siting and regulating interstate pipelines.

Pipeline opponents have begun to take their fight to FERC directly, demonstrating outside of the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Critics say the FERC process blocks meaningful public input.

Stockton said Williams is still trying to plan the best route for the pipeline. He said it has already re-routed 50 percent of the route based on feedback from the public and government agencies. “That in itself is evidence we are listening to people’s concerns. At the end of the day we want find best route that minimizes impact on people and the environment,” Stockton said.

In response to safety concerns, Stockton said the company has proposed using thicker-walled steel pipes, and subjecting the pipeline to more stringent tests.

The project is just one of dozens of new and expanded pipelines currently planned to carry Marcellus and Utica gas from Pennsylvania to lucrative northeast and overseas markets. These could lead to as many as 30,000 miles of new pipeline built over the next 20 years, according to state officials.

If approved by FERC, the pipeline could be operational by July 2017, Stockton said.

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