Scores protest pipelines at rally in Franklin

Nearly 80 people gathered on a hillside in the Delaware County town of Franklin on Saturday, Sept. 12 to protest proposed natural gas pipelines and a planned gas compressor station. The site was chosen because it overlooks a field which is on the planned route of the Constitution Pipeline and the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline.

The Constitution Pipeline received federal approval last year and is now awaiting permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The NED pipeline unveiled its plans to build a similar pipeline along a similar route last year, and would require the construction of multiple compressor stations in the Catskills

On Saturday, protestors wore surgical masks, held signs and waved puppets as several speakers took to the microphone during an hour-long event that began and ended with Franklin resident Jason Starr singing an original folk song, “Up on Hebbard's Farm.”

Above: Pipeline opponents displayed a large puppet as part of their protest.

The first speaker was the inspiration for the song, Don Hebbard, a town council candidate who lost a Republican Party primary election last week but will appear on the November ballot as the candidate of the Franklin Party.

“Both pipelines must be stopped,” Hebbard told the crowd. He said that the proposed compressor station would create “tons of toxic waste.”

Hebbard said the land along the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline route was taken “by eminent domain or threats to landowners,” and that the loss of “greenfield” status along that corridor will pave the way for more utility development by reducing the regulatory standards needed for future projects. “We must not lose Franklin's greenfield status,” he said.

Hebbard said that claims that natural gas is needed in New England--a key to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the pipelines--are not true, and that the real reason for pipelines is to export gas to the global market.

Hebbard also said that the pipelines will produce little local benefit.

He told the crowd that a few landowners will receive compensation and that the town will receive some added tax revenue, but that tax assessments on gas infrastructure will be reduced by payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements with the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency (IDA). As an example, he said that a compressor station on Hungry Hill in Hancock, part of the Millennium Pipeline, is assessed at only half of its actual value. He also noted that there are no plans to deliver natural gas to Franklin.

Another speaker, Dennis Higgins of Otego, said that pipeline advocates “paint a rosy picture,” but that pipelines owned by Cabot Oil & Gas, one of the partners in the Constitution project, have caused environmental problems elsewhere. 

Above: Jason Starr, a Franklin resident and pipeline opponent, entertained fellow protestors at Saturday's rally.

Higgins said that construction of the pipeline would “mow down nearly a million trees” and claimed that thousands of jobs in agricultural industries would be lost.

Franklin resident Eugene Marner called the Constitution Pipeline “unconstitutional” and said both the U.S. Constitution and a 2006 order issued by President George W. Bush limit the use of eminent domain to projects that benefit the public good.

He said that the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the pipelines violates both the Constitution and the 2006 order because the gas would be exported.

“This is clearly a violation of law,” he said. “This is clearly the theft of private property for personal profit.”

Bob Ackerman talked of the successful reintroduction of bald eagles to the area and contrasted it with FERC approval of the Constitution Pipeline.

“I hate to see reversals of really positive trends on this Earth,” he said. He said it is a “cruel paradox” that New York state banned the hydrofracturing process for gas drilling, but that “fracked” gas from Pennsylvania will pass through New York in pipelines.

Susie Winkler called the NED proposal, which calls for a second pipeline along a route similar to that of the Constitution Pipeline, “frightening,” but warned that things could get worse.

“This is about the industrialization of the entire pipeline corridor,” she said. “They introduce the projects in small, little bites so the communities can swallow them.” She called for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to deny permits required for the pipelines to cross streams.

Carolee Burns of Otego said that FERC decides whether pipelines are necessary based only on whether there is a buyer for the gas. She said officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have called for investigations of “FERC's rigged system.”

Kate O'Donnell of Oneonta said that schools in Franklin, Otego and Oneonta are within a few miles of the proposed compressor station.

“We are talking about putting toxic infrastructure in the laps of our communities, in the mouths of our children,” she said.

Bill Kitchen said that it is time to abandon natural gas as a fuel source.

“Fossil fuels lead to climate change and that is starting to spiral out of control,” he said. “We need to move away from this stuff and move onto renewables quickly.”

Alicia Pagano said that pipeline opponents need to act both nationally and locally.

“It's important for us to deal locally with our town boards, our town councils,” she said.

Keith Schue said that emissions from compressor stations are unsafe, even if they meet state and federal regulations. He said that levels determined by the government “should not give us any comfort.”

Kathy Dawson said that “true patriots” should oppose pipelines. “What we have now is legal corporate terrorism,” she said.

Epifanio “Pete” Bevilacqua, a candidate for Franklin town supervisor on the Democratic, Unity and Keep it Rural lines in the November election, said, “If you want someone to fight for you, you're going to have to vote for me and Don (Hebbard).”

After the rally, Hebbard said, “I'm thrilled to see the number of people who came out. I think it shows the support we have for what we're trying to do.”

He said such events can make a difference. “The more people see the people are aware and concerned, the more they will question and follow up,” he said.

Hebbard said he was happy with the “peaceful protest” which, he said, “is an American right.”

Correction: We incorrected identified one speaker as Suzy Ackermam. Her name is Suzy Winkler.