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DECISION DUE ON PIPELINE UNDER LAKE

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may meet in November to decide Millennium Pipeline's four-year-old proposal to carry Canadian natural gas under Lake Erie, across the Southern Tier and into the New York City metropolitan area.

The agency issued a final environmental impact statement Oct. 4, ending three years of study, public comment and hearings on the $700 million international transmission system. The study adopted a few routing changes over its 422-mile span, concluded that many problems could not be avoided and recommended adding 2 feet to the depth of a 9.2-foot deep pipeline to avoid ice scour near Lake Erie's U.S. shore.

But the Cattaraugus County Planning Board, upon learning that the recommendations ran counter to an alternative route endorsed by the County Legislature, decided Thursday to make a last-ditch appeal for diversion of the project around a section of Rock City State Forest in Little Valley.

Planning Board member Kameron Brooks plans to ask Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Amo Houghton, R-Corning, to contact the agency and state their positions on the Cattaraugus County route for the project before the matter is placed on FERC's November agenda.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said Thursday the commission could schedule the project for a certificate decision on Nov. 7 or Nov. 20, agenda dates which are publicized one week in advance on the agency's Web site at www.ferc.com.

According to county planner Carol O'Brien, the plan runs counter to FERC's policies against using cost as a basis for routing, and for following existing utility rights of way whenever possible. The plan could damage rocks in Rock City State Forest that planners say are tourism resources and considered sacred by the Seneca Nation of Indians, as well as rock formations on land owned by two private parties and the Elkdale Country Club in the Town of Little Valley.

FERC said in the environmental impact statement that the county's suggested "airport variation" would lengthen the pipeline and cause additional environmental impacts, an argument disputed by county officials.

If approved, the project would begin transporting gas to eight shippers and other customers of Columbia Gas, the proposed system operator, within two years. Up to 700 million cubic feet per day would travel through a pressurized 36-inch pipeline to Mount Vernon.

"It's going to be gas for New York City, and Cattaraugus County be damned," said Planning Board member Donald Patterson.

The proposal has also drawn opposition in other communities that will see a range of impacts due to the pipeline. Some of these have been targeted for mitigation, such as use of special timing and construction methods to minimize impacts for the endangered shortnose sturgeon habitat on the Hudson River.

Other measures include plans for soil reconstruction to follow excavations in a unique "black dirt" peat area in Orange County, a routing alternative near Con Ed power lines and the Taconic Parkway, dry crossings of 493 of the 506 bodies of water on the path, and some routing concessions to avoid a neighborhood church and health clinic in minority neighborhoods in the city of Mount Vernon.

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