The Village and the Pipeline

So where are we on the Commonwealth gas pipeline that first came to light last fall as a threat to our community?  We have been hearing reports since December that the project was “temporarily deferred,” but Commonwealth’s website indicated that the project was still a go. That has changed.  The website now reports that “The sponsors of Commonwealth Pipeline have suspended development of the project. We will be updating the website periodically to provide current information regarding the project’s status.”  This is very good news, but, while now official, a “suspension” is obviously not the end.

Word from the company is that the current price for domestic natural gas is too low to support the cost of the 120 mile pipeline. With all the increased production in northern and western Pennsylvania, we now have a surplus of gas.  In June 2008, when the idea for the pipeline may have started, the well head price for natural gas was $10.36 per 1000 cu/ft, in May 2012 it fell to $1.94 and is currently at $3.35.  Prices can rise again.  We need to be ready to act if the project returns.

We’ve done a lot in the past few months to get ready to oppose any pipeline project that would despoil our open space and surrounding areas, including the unique Hopewell Big Woods ecosystem to the north.  We formed an East Nantmeal Gas Pipeline Committee to coordinate our township efforts and created a website (ENTpipeline.wordpress.com) dedicated to providing the latest information on what’s going on the project and other pipelines in the area.

We held a community meeting for our township residents in January to share information about the project and hear their concerns and ideas on how to proceed. A broader community meeting was held at OJR high school in early February to hear Washington attorney Carolyn Elefant educate us about the federal regulatory process that holds the key to any effective opposition by our residents.

In late February a joint public meeting to adopt a pipeline opposition strategy was held with township supervisors from East Nantmeal, Warwick, West Vincent, Union, North Coventry, and South Coventry; Chester County Commissioners; State Rep. Tim Hennessey; representatives from the offices of State Senator Rafferty and Congressmen Gerlach and Meehan, as well as representatives from Natural Lands Trust, French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, and Green Valleys Association.  The environmental experts of the land trusts were charged with determining the specific impacts that the proposed pipeline would present, particularly to the Hopewell Big Woods, so that data can be used to strengthen arguments when interacting with the pipeline company and FERC.

Four of the six townships, including East Nantmeal, have passed resolutions objecting to the pipeline as currently proposed in their communities, with the remaining two townships still studying the issues, but expected to follow suit.

The Chester County Commissioners held a public meeting in April to develop a Pipeline Notification Protocol that will create a communications strategy for learning early on about any pipeline proposals in the future.

A new development that may help in our pipeline opposition and which is exciting in its own right is the approval last month by the Pennsylvania History and Museum Commission of our six-year old application to obtain National Historic Register status for Nantmeal Village and the surrounding farms.  The National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”) requires federal agencies to consider the impacts of their actions on listed historic resources, whether the federal involvement is directly carrying out a project, granting a federal permit to an applicant to construct a project, or providing financial assistance for a project.  Any pipeline project has to be approved and permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission so there is federal involvement.

The Commonwealth pipeline as last proposed would cross the eastern portion of the new historic district where it borders Horseshoe Trail Road.  This intrusion into the district would trigger review under NHPA.

The pipeline company would be required by FERC to conduct various studies regarding the impact of the pipeline on the historic district and our state history commission would issue findings and propose necessary mitigation.  In theory, we could demonstrate the impacts are serious and unavoidable and force a re-routing of the pipeline.

National Register status for our Village is a great thing for our township regardless of its effect on any pipeline project.  Recognition of the unique history of the Village is long overdue.  Register status imposes no obligations on property owners, no limitations on what anyone can do with their properties.  (See http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/national_register_fundamentals.htm for details.)  The only limitation is no federal dollars or agency can come in and, as would likely be the case, work to destroy the properties.  No federal dollars could be used, for example, to “improve” Fairview Road at the Village center by widening and straightening it, as some tractor-trailer companies might like.

Final national registry approval by the federal agency requires more work by our consultant.  The work to date has been funded primarily by the private ENT History Society (HS), but they are out of money.  We need to raise $7000 to finish the job.  The East Nantmeal Land Trust has agreed to help raise the funds.  Donations to the Trust are tax deductible.  Please give what you can to the effort.

With your help, we are ready—for the past and the future.

 Tyler Wren, Vice Chairman, Board of Supervisors