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Landowner assails FERC review of Atlantic Sunrise, points to alternative route

A local landowner took issue with FERC's environmental review of Williams Partners LP's Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline expansion project, saying the commission ignored a superior alternative route.

Through a spokeswoman, Geraldine Nesbitt claimed the commission's staff ignored "facts about significant and irreplaceable cultural and environmental resources." In a Jan. 23 news release, she said, "A less destructive and more convenient alternative route has been identified." Nesbitt owns a parcel of land in Luzerne County, Pa., and is attempting to protect her property and its features from the project's proposed path.

FERC staff issued a positive final environmental impact statement for the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC project on Dec. 30, 2016. In the report, FERC staff recommended that almost 60 mitigation measures be attached as conditions to any certificate order the commission might issue. The $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise project would deliver approximately 1.7 MMDth/d from the Marcellus Shale to Southeast markets.

Staff deliberately disregarded data submitted by Nesbitt's experts, as well as requests from at least one federally recognized Native American tribe for on-site consultation about resources in the parcel, according to Nesbitt's spokeswoman, Carolyn Elefant. Elefant, the founder and owner of Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC in Washington, D.C., has represented landowners and other affected parties in several cases against FERC.

"Instead of independently verifying the overwhelming impacts that would result from Williams' route selection, the FERC staff appears to have blindly accepted the flawed data ... and blatantly ignored any contradicting submissions from Ms. Nesbitt without any acknowledgement or response," Elefant said. She added that the parcel contains at least one burial site and could host various others, along with 66 culturally significant stone features that would be in the pipeline's path.

The statement concluded with an appeal to Williams and its investors. "The actions of the FERC staff threaten to delay this important project unnecessarily with additional legal and administrative procedures. Such a delay only benefits Williams' consultants at the expense of Williams, its stockholders, environment and cultural treasures and, in fact, the energy needs of the nation."

Williams has thrown its support behind the staff's environmental review.

"Transco's environmental experts followed state guidelines in excavating approximately 1,500 shovel tests on the Nesbitt property," Williams spokesman Christopher Stockton said. The test results determined that there were no known burial sites within the "limits of disturbance," and field visits with Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and two federally registered tribes' representatives concluded in an agreement that the proposed project path was acceptable. Stockton added that Williams has no intent to destroy cultural resources or human burials of any age or origin.

"We believe the FERC has accurately stated impacts for each of the routes under consideration and we respect its analysis and conclusions," he said.

FERC officials had not returned a request for comment at the time of publication.

Transco is owned by Williams Partners. (FERC docket CP15-138)