Photo by Rick Miller
Lia Oprea (center, in red) of Wyoming Erie Cattaraugus Against the Pipeline (WECAP) speaks with Barry Miller (right) of Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County and Diana Strablow of the Sierra Club during a walk Monday to mark the two-year anniversary of the state Department of Conservation ruling against the proposed 97-mile Northern Access Pipeline Project. The group walked to the site where the 24-inch pipe will trench through Cattaraugus Creek in Sardinia.

By Rick Miller

A group of activists opposed to the Northern Access Pipeline gathered for a walk Monday to mark the two-year anniversary of the state’s denial of a Clean Water Act permit for the pipeline’s route through Western New York.

That denial by the state Department of Environmental Conservation on April 7, 2017, was overturned by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last October.

The DEC had denied a Clean Waters Act certification to cross 180 streams, 27 wetlands and 17 ponds along the pipeline route in New York.

The FERC ruling said the DEC took longer than the one-year period allotted for review of the proposed $500 million pipeline. DEC officials pointed out that National Fuel Gas had agreed to the extensions.

“That didn’t matter,” said Lia Oprea of Sardinia, head of Wyoming Erie Cattaraugus Against the Pipeline (WECAP). “The DEC environmental concerns remain the same. They never did an environmental impact statement, just an environmental assessment.”

Worse yet, Oprea said, on April 2, FERC denied a DEC request supported by the Sierra Club, for a rehearing.

The walk to Cattaraugus Creek from property owned by Oprea and her family was also done in memory of Joe Schueckler, of Cuba, who fought National Fuel Gas’ eminent domain attempt to force the pipeline across his 200-acre property. Schueckler died on Sunday.

National Fuel Gas is expected to appeal the state Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of Schueckler and his wife Theresa, Oprea said.

Oprea and four other Erie County property owners along the pipeline route who lost their eminent domain fight are expected to challenge the court ruling Erie County against the eminent domain ruling that favored National Fuel Gas.

Oprea said the NoNAPL Coalition has grown to more than a dozen organizations, including Defend Ohi:Yo’, the Seneca Nation group that helped stop a plan to dispose of treated fracking water in the Allegheny River near Coudersport, Pa. last year.

Other groups in the NoNAPL coalition include: SANE Energy, Concerned Citizens of Cattaraugus County, Concerned Citizens of Allegany County, the Sierra Club, WECAP and Defend Ohi:Yo’, Indigenous Women’s Initiatives, The Green Party of Pennsylvania, Ohi:Yo’ Men’s Council, Poor People’s Campaign, Western New York Peace Council, The Center for Biological Diversity, Save the Allegheny and Save Our Streams-Pennsylvania.

With Cattaraugus Creek flowing through the Seneca’s Cattaraugus Territory, many Senecas are concerned over the impact of the pipeline crossing the creek with the open trench method.

The 24-inch pipeline’s crossing of the Allegheny River will be done through a horizontal drilling method with the pipeline several feet under the riverbed.

The pipeline would cross under the Allegheny River near Ceres. It would pass through a small portion of the town of Genesee in Allegany County before entering Cattaraugus County in the town of Portville. It would pass through the towns of Hinsdale, Ischua, Franklinville, Machias and Yorkshire before crossing Cattaraugus Creek into Erie County.

Defend Ohi:Yo’ member Elisa Parker, a Seneca working with the Environmental Health Unit, who participated in Monday’s NoNAPL walk, spoke of sponsoring a similar walk this summer to highlight the problems associated with the pipeline.

She said getting children involved with the large number of opponents to the Coudersport project helped kill the project. A children’s art show to show thankfulness for the environment will be held at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum May 3–5.

Shannon Seneca, who is also a member of Defend Ohi:Yo’ and an environmental engineer for the Seneca Environmental Health Unit, said a Watershed Resources Working Group is working on the Northern Access Pipeline issue as well.

Oprea said the area where National Fuel Gas wants to cross Cattaraugus Creek is in an area with steep slopes prone to slides where the company says it cannot use the horizontal drilling.

She pointed out where the creek’s path is constantly changing in the area where the pipeline will cross.

When the creek is swollen by snowmelt or heavy rain, big trees are often carried down the rushing water, Oprea said. “There’s the potential for breakage of the pipeline.”

National Fuel Gas officials have indicated the pipeline should be in service as early as 2022.

If constructed, the pipeline is expected to generate 1,700 jobs during construction and add $11.8 million a year in property taxes for Western New York municipalities.

The pipeline, which would bring natural gas along its route up through McKean County from Pennsylvania fracked gas fields, would connect to the Trans Canada Pipeline and the Tennessee Gas Co. Pipeline.