An estimated 154 properties in five Luzerne County townships will be involved in a proposed pipeline expansion designed to move natural gas extracted in Northeastern Pennsylvania to markets along the Atlantic coast, county officials learned Tuesday.
The impacted properties will be in Fairmount, Ross, Lake, Lehman and Dallas townships, Scott Carney, a representative of Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Energy, said as part of a public awareness briefing during council’s operational services committee meeting.
The 178-mile expansion of Williams’ existing Transco pipeline, called the “Atlantic Sunrise Project,” would include 22 miles of new 30-inch pipes through the county, Carney said.
According to Carney:
Williams hasn’t selected the 154 properties because the company begins with a rough swath of about 309 potential parcels and weeds out those with endangered species, wetlands, environmental issues, historic features and proximity to population centers.
There are no plans for compressor stations in the county portion of the expansion.
Open houses to detail the project and solicit public input are required as part of the initial pre-filing process seeking federal approval of the expansion plans. The open house for Luzerne County will be 6 to 8 p.m. May 20 at Lake-Lehman High School.
Williams plans to begin construction in June 2016, with a targeted completion in 2017.
The Transco pipeline has been in the area at least 50 years, originally designed to take gas from the Gulf of Mexico to Manhattan.
Councilman Rick Williams, who chairs the operational committee and said he has no tie to the Williams company, asked if properties can be acquired by force through eminent domain if owners refuse to participate.
Carney said the option is available by law, but the company prefers to negotiate face-to-face with willing property owners to come up with a “win-win” agreement.
Citizen Fred Javer asked about the depth of the pipe.
If the land is agricultural, Williams will work with the owner to place the top of the pipe at least 5 feet below the surface so the soil above can be farmed, Carney said. The pipe is typically 3 feet underground in other areas, though it may be 2 feet in an area with bedrock.
Back Mountain resident Jane Tolomello criticized the expansion plans, saying she lives near the existing Williams’ pipeline.
“They are not good neighbors,” she told council.
In other business:
• The operational committee held off on forming a committee to research putting the Luzerne County Rail Corp.’s 56 miles of track under the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Rail Authority, which covers Lackawanna and Monroe counties. The authority owns 100 miles of rail and is spearheading plans for passenger rail service linking Scranton to a New Jersey line that connects to New York City.
Williams proposed the idea, but the committee opted to invite representatives of both entities to next month’s meeting to obtain their input on the committee idea before proceeding. The Rail Corp. is a sister agency of the county Redevelopment Authority.
• Council’s Judicial Services/Justice Committee voted to ask the county solicitor to draft a letter urging the state to fully fund magisterial district court offices.
The county pays about $2.5 million annually on 17 offices because they receive $1.1 million in reimbursement but cost $3.6 million, said Councilman Stephen A. Urban, the committee chair. The state should pick up the tab because it mandates the number of offices, he said.
Similarly-populated Luzerne and Lehigh counties both have around 51 employees in their magisterial offices, but Lehigh County has 14 offices with a combined caseload of 6,500 compared to 17 offices and 4,200 cases a year in Luzerne, Urban said. Luzerne County is eliminating the Freeland magisterial office but still has too many, he maintained.
• County Manager Robert Lawton told the committee he has not signed off on raises for 90 non-union court branch employees because court officials have not responded to his request for proof the raises can be funded without transferring money from other areas of the court budget. For example, raises for court administration staff can’t be funded with savings in probation salaries because a transfer would be necessary, he said.