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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Columbia Gas, PA DEP and the residents of Pike County clash at open hearing on compressor issue

Hello, everybody. I need to get three important items out there right off.

One. Its been a while since I posted to this blog. Not that I haven't had anything to say – that will be the day, eh – but I haven't had the time to devote to research on the topics I like to write about here in order to have properly formed opinions littered with facts and common sense. I hope to change that son.

Two. This should in no way be considered as a completely journalistic effort. True, it will have facts. But as my readers (hopefully) recall, this is called Thinking Out Loud for a reason. It is from my point of view and perspective. So the facts presented will mostly be commented and side commented upon.

Three. And this is MOST IMPORTANT to get out there at the outset so as not to be buried too deep.

ANYONE who has an interest in commenting on the Milford Compressor Station Upgrade (read “replacement”, as I will explain later), you need to send that NOW! And I do mean NOW! The comment period endsw on Tuesday September 2. Which is the day after Labor Day. Which means Monday is shot. And today is Wednesday. So you have to get it in the mail and overnighted, priority, next day . . . what ever will get your comments to the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

Here's the address:

Mark Wejksner, Air Quality Program Manager
2 Public Square
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701-1915

Okay. Got that out of the way.

So here's the deal with all of that. Columbia Gas (NiSource) wants to “upgrade” the compressor station in Milford. I use the parenthetical upgrade because it is essentially a whole new compressor station. They are tearing out the old and putting in the new.

Replacement. Simple enough to call it what it is.

Anyway, all this has a lot of people upset over it. There have been protests and letter writing campaigns and what not. You can't really blame them. This new compressor, if it uses gas powered units has the potential to spew quite a bit of toxins and produce a bunch of noise. All of which is not good for an area that is mostly nature and parks and wildlife, and derives its economic engine from this fact. Hell, Milford is home to the American Conservation movement.

So, you can't really blame people for not wanting this thing to be built where it will negatively impact the environment, the economy, health, well being . . . all of that. The area is home to numerous falls and beautiful clean rivers and streams . . . which took lots of people many years to make happen.

Now here comes this nasty corporate giant wanting to barge in and do what they want. The President said they could. In his errant quest to make it look like he is doing anything about energy independence.

But I digress, the President and his tyrannical view of his job is not at issue here. SO lets move on.

See, here is the thing. The equipment there is really old. Goes back to the 50's. And it really doesn't meet the environmental standards of today – even though the company has been replacing this part and that valve over the years to keep it up to snuff. So they really do need to replace it.

Do they need it that much bigger? Well, eventually, with all the gas being piped through their line and the Tennessee gas lines . . . probably. And any mention of the fact that this is coming the fracking of western Pennsylvania just muddies the issue. There are those that add this into the argument, but they are wrong to do so. So this will be my only mention of it. Boom! Done.

But Columbia Gas needs to make this a better compressor that it is.

The gas powered engines are NOT the way to go, however. And they know this. But their corporate bottom line dictates that they have to be responsive to the shareholders and do things as inexpensively as legally possible. Which means not using electric motors and gas recapture technology. Forget that this is the Best Management Practice. Forget that this would pay for itself in just a few years. Forget that it is the BEST for the environment, for the health, etc, etc of the residents, wildlife, water and fauna in the area.

These things are not their concern.

Don't get me wrong, the people in the company may have their own opinions and desires – hell, they mostly have families and children and care about the environment as much as the next person. But they have a corporate responsibility.

Now, along comes the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and their responsibility to the people. Columbia Gas had to get an air quality permit from them for this compressor station in order to begin their work. Part of a multi-step process involving lots of different governmental agencies.

With the outcry and letter writing, mostly from the Milford Township Supervisors – the municipality where the compressor station resides – the PA DEP had a public hearing. This hearing was held at the Delaware valley High School last Monday (August 18). It was a chance for local residents to let the DEP know they should not grant Columbia Gas their permit unless they use electric motors. (Unbelievably, no one mentioned the recapture technology at this meeting.) It was a time for the people who live here and are opposed to having their environment, their health and their economy impacted by this new compressor to stand up and be counted. To have their say before the people whose job it is to listen.

Out of over 50,000 Pike County residents, 1800 from Milford Township alone, can you guess how many showed up? Oh come on, you've all been here before in this process where the people get to have their say. Go ahead. Guess.

I'll give you a hint. There were people here from all over the county. There were even some from neighboring states.

Got a guess? No?

Some people have the count as low as 141, others as high as near 200. And of those present, 40 people spoke. Even though at the end, the DEP media rep, Colleen Connolly asked if anyone else not on the list wanted to speak. Two of those 40 were of the last minute variety.

But that is it.

The people opposed to having the negative impacts this new compressor represented are all hoping that the quality of the content of the speakers will outweigh the quantity in the eyes of the DEP.

And there was definitely quality to those who argued against the compressor and called for electric motors.

There were those, like Linda Klee who has asthma and Ruby Willis who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury, that spoke about the negative impact to health the gas powered engines represented. People who already suffer from one illness to another would be exposed to even higher levels of toxins. Within current DEP guidelines. But not future ones. And not the desired levels of residents, for whom any emissions will effect them.

There were those from local government and activists who cited various legal reasons that DEP should deny the application. Such as Kevin Stroyan of the Milford Township Planning Commission, Don Quick and Gary Clark, Supervisors with Milford Township and Anthony Magnotta, the Milford Township Solicitor. They called on the DEP to force Columbia Gas to use electric motors. They strongly requested Columbia Gas / NiSource come in for a conditional use hearing. They reminded the gas company of their own words at the beginning of the meeting saying they intended to adhere to all state, federal and LOCAL ordinances. They demanded the company be the “good neighbors” they insisted they were and have been in the past.

There were those who spoke to the issue of the economic destruction this compressor could wreck upon the area. People such as Nancy Shandley who said that “Milford's economic growth and survival depends on tourism.” She said further that people come up here to get away from the crowds and pollution and noise, and breath in the clean air. But what she and visitors don't want is to “breath in toxic air . . . drink contaminated water . . . or worry in fear of possible explosions.”

“I find it ironic,” Shandley concluded. “That the birthplace of the conservation and forestry movement is sitting precariously and in danger of the very thing it stands for – preserving the natural and pristine environment.”

Then there were those that reminded, both in word and action, who the gas company and the DEP are up against on this issue. Spoken with great alacrity and passion was Sean Strub, owner of a local hotel and someone I don't always see eye to eye with.

Strub reminded the people from Columbia Gas / Ni Source that the people here were the same people who have fought, and won, on environmental issues in the past.

“This is the community,” Strub said forcefully. “that a century ago provided the leadership to fight the timber trusts and railroad trust that led to anti-trust actions, that led to protection of our forest . . . this bis the community that half a century ago took on the Army Corp of Engineers – had one of the first mass acts of civil disobedience protest in the environmental issue stopping the Tocks Island Dam project . . . this is the community that did that!” He ended up saying that this is the community that twenty five years ago stopped real estate interests from building a shopping mall and degrading the Sawkill.

So, bottom line, the next step is up to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They will a) approve the permit as it stands, b) deny the permit as it stands, c) decide to have a full hearing on the matter or d) approve the permit conditional – with that condition being electric motors.

My thought is that DEP will want to just go ahead and approve the permit, because that would be the easiest thing for them to do. No harm, no foul, is how they will look at it. Hell, the residents couldn't even show up in any number that would represent a majority of the voting public. Its this apathy among people who live here that will be the downfall of this drive to protect the environment.

But there is also a chance that DEP will look at this as an embarrassing moment, because they will be called out onto the mat for approving something that will indeed harm the environment. Which means they would go through the process of holding a full hearing. This will only be the case if there is enough public outcry to embarrass them into this.

Less likely is that they will either deny the permit or allow it with the condition of using electric motors.

But you have to remember that no matter what their mission is, they are a government agency, an agency that sits under the leadership of a man who has one of the most atrocious environmental records of any Governor in recent memory. And they not only don't have a lot of sympathy for the public, they have even less for a public how is obviously apathetic.

And to tell the truth, aside from the people who protest these things on a regular basis, the majority of the community are lazy and apathetic and – unfortunately for the rest of – don't really care about anything but themselves. And in the end, they will be the ones who cry “why wasn't anything done about this” when their property values drop, the wildlife dies off, the trees turn gray and the ir children get sick.

It is a typical response for Americans these days. They either listen to an espouse the ideologies of the far left or right but do nothing of consequences, or they simply blame everyone else for their troubles.

Agree with me or not, it really doesn't matter to me. Go out and look at all the facts, make your own decisions on the facts or merits of the case. Don't listen to me. This is just me, thinking Out Loud.

Have a great day.


1 comment:

  1. I lived in Wyoming County,believe me,you DO NOT want a compressor like the one they want to put in. There have been several explosions in the Tunkhannock area in the past couple years. It's so frightening! But alas,the gas companies just seem to do whatever they want regardless of what the local people want. Money speaks big time.They even sue the town if they don't get their way,which most small PA towns just can't afford so they give in.There are now 7 gas wells within 2 miles of my home. The noise,pollution,bright lights,scores of trucks on dirt roads,methane plumes,ugh!,I could go on and on.This WAS a beautiful area to live in,now scarred by gas well poc marks.I hope it never comes to Pike County.Best of luck,do try your best at getting the gas recovery system,it's a little better.