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Residents, Pendleton officials take stand against natural gas compressor

PENDLETON – When Michael and Kelly Monde purchased their house on Beach Ridge Road last summer, it was everything the couple wanted in a home.

Set back from the road with ample tree coverage in the front, the home offered privacy previously unattainable when they had lived in the Town of Tonawanda. It also offered the space and amenities needed for their growing family, which includes two daughters and a son on the way.

“It’s so peaceful, so quiet,” Kelly Monde said, noting that the house was under contract when they first looked at it, but that deal fell through and they were able to buy it. “It felt like it was kind of meant to be.”

Their dream home, however, has slowly turned into a nightmare since April, Kelly Monde said, with the news that National Fuel is looking to build a 22,000-horsepower compressor on land directly behind them.

“I cried,” she said, describing her reaction to finding out about the proposed compressor. “It immediately changed our sense of feeling safe in our new home.”

The Mondes aren’t the only residents in the town upset with the prospect of a compressor on Beach Ridge Road. A group of concerned citizens quickly formed the Pendleton Action Team in April, picking up nearly 350 Facebook “likes” since its formation.

Along with residents, town politicians, safety officials and the Starpoint School Superintendent C. Douglas Whalen have all come out against the compressor.  

“Why us?,” asked Barbara Ciepiela, a Beach Ridge Road resident and member of the citizens organization.

The proposed compressor is part of the larger Northern Access 2016 Project, which aims to deliver gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania to the northeastern United States and Canada. The compressor has to be built along a four-mile stretch of 16-inch pipeline in the town, which would be replaced with 24-inch pipeline as part of the project, said Ronald Kraemer, president of Empire Pipeline and vice president of National Fuel Gas Supply Co., two subsidiaries of National Fuel.

According to Kraemer, National Fuel Gas Supply delivers gas through the area at 400 to 500 pounds of pressure, while Empire runs gas through at 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.

The compressor would allow the company to increase the pressure in the National Fuel supply line and run it into the Empire line, equaling the rate at which gas flows through the lines.

Nearly 350 residents attended a public hearing held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May, raising concerns about noise, the possibility of an explosion or fire at the station and the impact the compressor would have on home values in the area.

Residents and town officials also have questioned how the company can build a compressor station on land zoned residential.

“My feeling is that it really doesn’t belong there,” said Pendleton Supervisor James Riester. “It belongs in an industrial area.”

The public comment period for the project ended May 29.

Kraemer, who attended the May 20 meeting in Wendelville Fire Hall, said the company is aware of residents’ concerns and is actively taking them into account going forward. He estimates that the project is about a year from being approved, as FERC does its due diligence.

“We’re in the middle of a pretty long process,” he said, disputing the contention of some in the community who believe the project is being pushed through quickly. “It’s not getting rammed through,” he said.

FERC representative Celeste Miller said the regulatory agency is in the process of gathering information for an environmental review. Once that phase is completed, she said, a schedule will be issued outlining the timing of the environmental assessment.

In terms of noise concerns, the town is currently working on a noise ordinance, Riester said, prompted by the compressor. FERC mandates that the compressor station not be louder than 55 decibels, and Kraemer maintains that the station will be 10 to 15 decibels lower than the regulation.

Riester, however, expressed some doubt.

“We’re not sure what the noise level will be,” he said.

Kraemer also pointed out that the compressor will bring about $2.8 million in property tax revenue for the county, town and school district, something that he said has been downplayed in the community.

“The amount of tax revenue is pretty impressive,” he said.

Riester said the company’s slow response to problems at a plant off of Aiken Road, near the proposed site of the compressor, has raised concerns about emergency situations that may arise. During the May 20 hearing, Wendelville Fire Chief Joel Maerten also expressed concerns about how a fire or explosion would be handled at the compressor.

Empire Pipeline’s Kraemer said any emergency situation involving a fire or explosion would be handled by the company.

Local fire companies would be involved in protecting the surrounding area, he said, but National Fuel personnel would be responsible for bringing any issues under control.

“We don’t expect fire companies to do much other than to respond and make the area safe around it,” he said.

If there is an incident at a station, it automatically shuts down, and all of the gas in the station is blown into the atmosphere, Kraemer said. The “blow down” would occur through a silencer.

“Even an emergency blow down is a silenced event,” he said. “It actually is no louder than the operation of the station.”

The goal is to get any flammable product away from the station, Kraemer said, to prevent a fire.

“The gas is completely vented from the station and there is nothing flammable in the station,” he said.

Going forward, town officials, who are looking into hiring environmental attorney Marc Romanowski to represent the town’s interests, are hopeful National Fuel will work with them on an alternative to the proposed site on Beach Ridge Road, Riester said.

“We want to work with them and come up with a better solution,” he said.

As the process plays out, the company will be looking at alternative sites, Kraemer said, as the site has not been “clearly determined yet.”

“We certainly heard loud and clear … find a spot that’s zoned appropriately,” he said. “We don’t think we missed too many of those possibilities, and frankly, there aren’t really any zoned manufacturing or industrial areas in the Town of Pendleton. There are some limited sites in the Town of Wheatfield, and we’re going to explore those sorts of options.”

For the Mondes, who put everything they had into their new house, the future remains unclear, as the process plays out.

“We don’t want to leave,” said Michael Monde.

“It would be heartbreaking,” added Kelly Monde.