Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meets with public to discuss gas pipeline

OLEY TWP., Pa. - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hosted a scoping meeting on Thursday evening to gather public comment and input regarding the proposed 14-mile DTE Energy natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline would stretch from a distribution gas line in Rockland Township, across 34 separate land parcels and impacting 29 landowners, to a sole recipient: the proposed power plant in Birdsboro, expected to be built by 2019.

The current step in the process — the pre-filing stage — has the FERC holding scoping meetings, and it will notify the public of the intent to perform an environmental assessment. Once that process is completed, DTE will file a formal application to move forward with the pipeline. FERC requires public input and comment regarding pipeline installations and provides opportunities for potential protest and intervention.

"We hope to file the formal application around May," said Steve Hohf, DTE's manager of natural gas analytics. Hohf said feedback from the landowners has been mainly positive and added the company is very careful to minimize the environmental and human impacts.

"We're looking for the local impacts of the project; if the residents know of any local resources we might not be aware of, which is why we do these meetings," said Jenny Zielinski, the FERC project manager.

She added the process takes months and the process' length depends on the public comments and what concerns are raised. When asked of the residents' consensus, Zielinski said, "They seem to be informed and concerned."

The meeting was designed for the public to interact with members of the FERC and DTE Energy at stations within the Oley Valley Fair Center, where written or verbal comments could be submitted, but some residents felt misled and thought there would be a formal presentation where questions could be asked in a group setting afterwards.

Heather Nelson, a concerned Amity Township resident, was critical of the forum and the process.

"For a public comment forum, it doesn't feel very public. I don't have a lot of faith in the process, if this is how the process has started," she said.

Nelson added she had signed up to receive a copy of the public docket at the last meeting on December 14, but didn't receive the packet until January 28, 10 days after it had been made public.

"I just didn't have enough time to prepare my comments, so that's a frustration," Nelson said.

"It doesn't feel as if FERC is working in the interest of the community. It feels as if they're working in the interest of the company," she added.

Nelson said her main concerns are what methods the company will use, which waterways will be crossed, and destruction of riparian buffers.

The company's next step after the "pre-filing stage" is the formal application, which DTE will submit to the FERC and which will lead to another public meeting. The FERC will publish written and submitted comments to its website within the next few days to engage further community discourse.

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