Pilgrim Pipeline opponents cite 1909 law requiring local approvals

By Christian Halstead

The New York-New Jersey Coalition Against the Pilgrim Pipeline (CAPP) has fought to stop the construction of the Pilgrim Pipeline, a proposed 168-mile long set of two crude and refined oil pipelines set to run from Albany to the Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey since September 2014. Their advocacy has resulted in the passage of over 60 municipal ordinances and resolutions along the pipeline’s proposed path, including legislation passed in Mahwah, NJ and Tuxedo, NY seeking to ban the pipeline’s construction.

Despite the unity in legislative effort among the potentially affected communities, the looming threat of a lawsuit filed by the Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, LLC against anti-pipeline legislation deterred hope for many fighting against its construction. In the past month, however, the CAPP and allied advocacy groups, such as the Hudson Valley Riverkeeper, have brought to light the century-old New York Transportation Corporations (“Transcorp”) Law of 1909.
In a letter addressed to the New York Thruway Authority and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany on March 25, 2016, these leading environmental groups explain that Article 7 of the NY Transcorp Law clearly states that, “No pipe line shall be constructed into or through any incorporated village or city in this state, unless authorized by a resolution prescribing the route, manner of construction and terms upon which granted, adopted at a regular meeting of the board of trustees of the village or the legislative body of the city by a two-thirds vote.”

The Coalition’s letter concludes by imploring the, “DEC and the Authority [to] either request that Pilgrim withdraw its application or suspend their review until the corporation can provide credible evidence demonstrating the feasibility of the project as proposed and submits all additional necessary permits.”

With so many communities having recently passed legislation limiting pipeline construction, including five out of the nine heavily populated NY towns along the pipeline’s proposed path, this age-old law may be more relevant than ever and the determining factor in this struggle.
The Transcorp Law of 1909 has galvanized and empowered many CAPP advocates such as Kate Hudson, the director of the Hudson Riverkeeper Cross Watershed Initiatives, who now confidently describes the pipeline as “a project that can’t happen.”

Despite this, CAPP’s fight is far from over. Individuals such as Bergen County Freeholder, John Felice, firmly support the Pilgrim Pipeline’s construction. “America’s energy independence is critical to our well-being and this pipeline is a part of that,” Felice explained.

Paul Nathanson, a spokesman for Pilgrim, told the Bergen Record that the coalition’s claims are “ridiculous.” He said, “I will only say that our lawyers have confidence in the viability of our project and in our ability to obtain approvals needed to build the pipeline.”

Government officials have yet to make any comment regarding whether the old law is relevant in this case. According to Kate Hudson of Riverkeeper there is little established New York court precedent involving such a pipeline. Hudson elieves this is the first time the 1909 law has been invoked to stop a pipeline project.

If the Pilgrim Pipeline were to be built, it would pass through six New York counties, including Rockland, through heavily populated areas, waterways, reservoirs, and parks. About 80 percent of the pipeline would pass through Thruway property.

Of concern to many in Rockland County, the Pilgrim Pipeline is set to pass through is the Ramapo Aquifer, which provides over 50 percent of all drinking water for thousands of residents in the towns of Ramapo, Haverstraw, Orangetown and Clarkstown, the villages of Hillburn, Suffern and Spring Valley, and the Township of Stony Point.

In addition to environmental concerns, CAPP activists claim the pipeline is likely to be used for oil exports that will create corporate profits, but not provide needed energy supply locally.

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