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Pendleton boards can’t block compressor siting, federal official says

PENDLETON – There was talk last week at a jam-packed public meeting in Pendleton that the Town Board or one of its other boards could block the National Fuel natural gas compressor project.

But a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said that’s not how she sees it.

Tamara Young-Allen told The Buffalo News that the commission has the sole power to decide on interstate pipeline and compressor projects.

“The state and local ordinances are not to be designed to obstruct the commission’s decisions,” she said. “They can’t do anything that can overturn the commission’s decision.”

National Fuel and its subsidiary, Empire Pipeline, are enlarging an existing pipeline system in Western New York to move gas from the fracking fields of north-central Pennsylvania to Canada. In order to do so, the company has chosen a site on Killian Road in Pendleton for a 22,000-horsepower compressor to push the gas along in the pipeline, which is to be enlarged from 16 inches to 24 inches in diameter.

The company filed an application with the commission in March, but the original version called for a compressor site on Aiken Road. The application is to be amended to include the new site.

National Fuel has signed a purchase option to buy 20 acres of land from the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club on Killian Road as a compressor site. The club made the option deal for an undisclosed payment, which will be large enough to pay off all the club’s debts and, once the land actually is sold, there will be a second payment that will enable the club to buy more land, according to David F. Notaro, president of the sportsmen’s club board.

Young-Allen said the Energy Policy Act of 2005 makes commission, not any local government, the lead agency in considering interstate pipeline projects.

She cited an opinion a year ago by the U.S. Circuit Court in Washington that upheld the commission’s decision in favor of a compressor project in the Town of Minisink in the Catskills. That town’s planning board chairman asserted that the pipeline company’s site plan couldn’t be approved because it wasn’t a permitted use under the town’s zoning law.

The court ruled that local permits must be consistent with the commission’s rulings, not the other way around. Gary A. Abraham, the attorney hired by the Town Board to fight the compressor project, said the town still has cards to play.

“We don’t think that FERC has unlimited pre-emption,” Abraham said. He said the town can make arguments before the commission that don’t have anything to do with the terms of town codes or zoning ordinances.

“FERC has a general policy that they don’t approve projects that aren’t in the public interest,” Abraham said. “As far as I can see, there’s no domestic use for that gas, so where’s the public interest?”

National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said the company will soon be filing for site plan approval in Pendleton.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com