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National Fuel submits compressor plans, sets public forum

PENDLETON – National Fuel’s subsidiary, Empire Pipeline, has submitted plans for its natural gas pipeline compressor complex to the Pendleton Planning Board, which promptly punted it to the Town Board for a ruling on whether the project can be made to comply with the town zoning ordinance.

The issue appears to be whether the compressor project fits in a light industrial zone, such as the site on Killian Road that the pipeline company intends to acquire. The compressors are part of an enlargement of the existing National Fuel gas pipeline. The goal is to carry gas from the fracking fields of north-central Pennsylvania to Canada by connecting with the TransCanada pipeline at Chippawa, Ont., just across the Niagara River from Grand Island.

The company will hold a public forum from 1 to 9 p.m. Oct. 7 in the Wendelville Fire Company hall on Campbell Boulevard, with presentations at 2, 6 and 8 p.m. Postcards are being sent out within the town, since reservations are required. Wendelville President John Sattelberg said, “The fire company is only renting the building and does not endorse the project.”

The flyer says there will be another meeting Nov. 7 at a site to be determined.

Gary A. Abraham, the attorney hired by the town to fight the project, said it looks to him as if the company is contradicting itself by seeking town approval while insisting that the town’s site plan approval process is pre-empted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “I don’t get it,” he said.

Adam S. Walters of Buffalo’s Phillips Lytle law firm wrote in the 10-page letter to the Planning Board, “Nevertheless, FERC encourages regulated entities such as Empire to attempt to work cooperatively with local officials, and Empire is committed to making reasonable, good-faith efforts to work cooperatively with the town regarding the facility.”

Critics of the compressor plan have said they don’t believe it’s suitable for a light industrial zone. Town Supervisor James A. Riester has said he believes it belongs in an industrial park. But the company’s filing with the town says the town zoning ordinance allows “essential services” in a light industrial district, and that term is defined as including the construction of natural gas facilities by a public utility.

Abraham said the Town Board needs to conclude that the pipeline is an essential service of a public utility for the town review of the project to proceed. He questioned whether National Fuel “is providing any direct services to anyone in the town or the surrounding region.”

Riester said the topic isn’t on the agenda for Monday’s Town Board work session, where he expects the board to allow Abraham to hire an air quality expert to provide research that can be presented to FERC to oppose the compressor. He said the Town Board won’t act on interpretation of the essential services provision until Town Attorney Claude A. Joerg gives the go-ahead. Joerg declined comment on the issue.

The plan calls for two compressors, each packing 11,107 horsepower, to be built on a 20-acre site National Fuel plans to buy from the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club, 5657 Killian Road. Each compressor will be housed in a 50-by-64-foot building with a roof averaging 35 feet high, designed to look like a barn. Next to each compressor building is an exhaust chimney to be concealed in a 60-foot silo.

A 28-by-69-foot metering and odorizer building, a 20-by-56-foot power distribution center, an 8-by-16-foot remote terminal unit and a 12-by-56-foot office building also are part of the plans.

National Fuel spokeswoman Karen L. Merkel said, “These industrial facilities could be much larger and would likely offer far less aesthetic treatment than the proposed station, as National Fuel only intends to develop 5 to 8 acres of the approximately 20-acre site and will incorporate an agricultural design.”