Millennium Pipeline OK'd
WASHINGTON - A federal commission approved the bitterly fought Millennium Pipeline yesterday, but gave Mount Vernon leaders a chance to work out an alternate route for the section of the high-pressure natural gas line that would run through their city.
"We care a lot about getting this right, but I think we acknowledge that it does need to get done," said Chairman Pat Wood III of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told an audience that included about 30 Westchester County residents and officials, mostly from Mount Vernon. The commission voted 4-0 to allow the 420-mile United States section of the line, which would run across lower New York state and cut 16 miles through Rockland County and 33 miles through Westchester.
The approval stops at the Mount Vernon line, and pipeline developers were instructed to meet with Mount Vernon leaders to try to come up with an acceptable route in 60 days. If they do not, the commission will approve one.
The decision upset opponents, who fear the line carrying 700 million cubic feet of natural gas daily could explode near a school, health-care center or homes and that driving the line across the Hudson River and from Cortlandt to Mount Vernon's south side would harm the environment.
"They ignored everything," said a teary Dani Glaser, head of the anti-pipeline group Not Under My Backyard, in the hall outside the meeting. "They ignored us. They ignored the law."
Glaser came to the meeting on a bus chartered by the Mount Vernon City Council that left Mount Vernon City Hall with opponents at 5:25 a.m. yesterday to make the meeting 250 miles away.
After the meeting, Mount Vernon City Council President Lyndon Williams said his city would work with Millennium developers to find a route, while reviewing other options. The order, he said, gave Millennium the advantage because the developers get to build either way.
"It's an incentive for them not to reach a settlement because they have no downside," he said.
Williams said the commission did not address Mount Vernon's charge that running the line through the densely populated area with a large black and Hispanic population amounts to environmental racism. Opponents said they would keep up the fight.
"This is round one," said Alan Scheinkman, attorney for Westchester County on energy matters. County Executive Andrew Spano has vowed to block the line.
"Their decision defies logic," Spano said in a prepared statement. "They have ignored all the evidence in front of them, and now they are telling Mount Vernon to pick their own route when no route is acceptable. This is big business and big government running roughshod over the people of Westchester."
Karl Brack, a spokesman for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., which would build the New York state portion of the line, said the commission carefully considered the issues, and he praised the decision. "We look forward over the next 60 days to exploring workable solutions to rerouting the line," he said. "Quite clearly, the commission has agreed that there is a need for the pipeline."
The commission ordered Columbia to await the determination of the Department of State review and abide by any conditions it imposes. Michael McGeehee, a commission staff member who read the draft order that the commission approved, said the need for power in the area is great. Reading from the order, he said that while the line would have "potential impacts ? the far greater risk would be for us to ignore or miscalculate the growing energy requirements in this region."
Williams held out hope the order allows the city to suggest an alternate route that would not end up in Mount Vernon or cut through the city at all. Wood, the chairman, said after the meeting he would double-check the order, but that his sense was the alternate still would have to enter and end up in the city.
"Either you've got to extend the Con Edison line to meet Millennium or you've got to extend the Millennium line to meet Con Edison," he said. Through the rest of Westchester, the commission approved a compromise route that runs along the Taconic State Parkway in northern Westchester. That route was fought by Briarcliff Manor school officials, who complained the pipeline would run within 140 feet of the Todd Elementary School and 400 feet of the middle-high school.
In Mount Vernon, the line proposed would pass within 22 feet of the Hamilton Elementary School, a prime concern of opponents. When the commission issues its final version of the order, expected in a few days, opponents will have 30 days to request that the panel consider the project again. If the commission reaffirms its decision, further objections must be taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals.