Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DRBC Letter by Alex Lotorto

The Delaware River Basin Commissioners refuse to accept that major pipeline projects impact the Delaware River watershed. It's up to us to ask for a stop to Tennessee Pipeline construction and the proper public hearings which have never been granted. For more information, see the Delaware Riverkeeper Network's latest blog post: http://www.delawareriverkeeper.org/act-now/urgent-details.aspx?Id=139
Dear Delaware River Basin Commissioners, Voting Governors, and President Obama,

I write to you as a lifelong resident and sportsman of Pike County, PA requesting that you immediately stop the Tennessee Pipeline construction now underway in northern New Jersey and awaiting final permits for Milford Township.

We are not a resource colony to be sacrificed for the politically expedient dirty energy policies of the Obama administration or your respective governors Markell (D-DE), Cuomo (D-NY), Corbett (R-PA), and Christie (R-NJ).

I cannot speak for the residents of Sussex and Passaic Counties across the river, but I will speak to my experience there. I have fished the Flatbrook scheduled to be dredged by this project since I was four and I have hiked the Appalachian Trail through High Point State Park since I was ten. When I sang the National Anthem for my Delaware Valley High School graduation, I looked out on the High Point Monument and its pristine ridge that will be forever scarred if you do not prevent it. I am a resident of Pike County, but I am also a resident of the river valley that has embraced generations before me.

This will be my final written communication to you after I have pleaded with you by phone and during your December meeting, where my testimony was cut short by your police. I saw the officers get nervous as I spoke, and I reassure you that I'm not going to physically harm you or anyone else in this struggle to stop the pipeline. However, I do mean to hurt your feelings and move your group conscience.

All three of our Pike County commissioners, the mayor of Milford, Senator Casey, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and many others have sent letters to you requesting that you stop this project. For over a year now, we have marched down the mountainside, testified, held vigils, car parades, pipeline tours, movie screenings, and rallied at the company office for weeks on end. Countless comments, written and spoken, have been submitted to you and yet you are silent.

From now on, you will only see our message presented to you on the signs and banners of my neighbors here and in New Jersey as we prepare to block the construction with our bodies using nonviolent direct action. I warned you in December. In the past two months since my testimony, I personally have trained over 60 local residents to blockade the access roads to the project and there are plenty more willing to join us. If you do not act to stop this pipeline, we are unfortunately willing to spend nights in jail away from our families to protect this land and our rural heritage and there are countless others who will rally in support of those who are arrested.

For visual evidence of the destruction, see the Delaware Riverkeeper Network's pipeline video series here.

My primary reasons for asking you to take action are as follows.

1) Our region's economic engine is the esthetic and rural nature of our environment. We rely on tourism, recreation, real estate, and agriculture to support our families and as long as we steward this land, we will always enjoy the benefits of being the green backdrop to the New York metropolitan area.

From "Socioeconomic Value of the Delaware River Basin" by GJ Kauffman of the University of Delaware:

More personally, my mother, Alexandria Lotorto who recently passed away, was a realtor who fed and clothed me growing up with the money she earned selling homes on Firetower Rd, Foster Hill Rd, and Cummins Hill Rd where the Tennessee Pipeline is proposed to cut its right of way. She sold properties and homes because her buyers fell in love with the land here in Pike County and with the views of the endangered High Point State Park across the river. Most people move here and stay here to escape the same industrialized landscape that we are now fighting to stave off.

The builders, construction workers, local businesses, and suppliers who benefited from our housing market continue to benefit from people's home improvement projects that could very well diminish if they feel their properties are worth less due to the pipeline crossing. Ultimately, tourism and recreation could drop off as people discover their favorite rural secrets have been spoiled by pipelines and natural gas infrastructure as has already occurred with the recent Tennessee and Columbia Pipeline upgrades. The Columbia Pipeline already dredged its way across Dingmans Creek in Childs Park where I first kissed my prom date and scars the view from our scenic Hawks Nest lookout where I often take my family and friends to boast about the river valley. The Tennessee Pipeline was dredged crossed the Lackawaxen River in 2011 with a 100-yard wide clear cut and Shohola Creek where I trout fish.

It has been my father's and my trade as landscapers to make and keep this place beautiful and it is yours to permit the landscape's destruction. This can change if you choose to stop the construction.

2) Milford's rural heritage as the Home of the American Conservation Movement and the planned "wet crossing" dredging of (Gifford) Pinchot Brook and Dimmick Meadow Brook Headwater Wetlands, home to many species of concern, must compel you to act. The standing PA DEP violations that have yet to be corrected from previous Tennessee Pipeline wetland crossings should designate Tennessee Pipeline Company as a bad actor who should not be allowed to proceed.

I can't speak for him, but if Gifford Pinchot, the father of conservation, were alive today, I bet he would be standing beside me to defend his Milford homestead.

The Pike County 2011 Natural Heritage Inventory describes the protected areas in the path of the pipeline:
(Gifford) Pinchot Brook Wetlands – Beaver activity has heavily influenced the appearance and habitat of this wetland. The wetland is now dominated by tussock sedge (Carex stricta). The deep channels and hummocks of Pinchot Brook Wetland are typical of this type of modified habitat. Surveys identified several insect species of concern. Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) and band-winged meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum) are dragonfly species found in a variety of wetland habitats. Mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit) is a butterfly species found in wetlands and bogs. Tussock sedge is abundant in Pinchot Brook Wetlands and is the host plant for this species. A population of marsh bedstraw (Galium trifidum), a plant species of concern, was found growing among the sedge tussocks and other vegetation.

Threats and Stresses – A pipeline cuts though the northern end of the wetland, which is otherwise well buffered. This disturbance may create a point for the establishment of invasive species.

Management Recommendations – Do not cut the forested buffer within 328 feet (100 meters) of the wetland edge, in order to adequately filter runoff before it enters into Pinchot Brook Wetlands. Clean any equipment before use along the pipeline to prevent the spread of invasive species from other locations.

Dimmick Meadow Brook Wetlands – This small headwater wetland flows to the west of Buckhorn Oak Barren. Several locations along this narrow channel have been modified by beaver activity. These open graminoid wetlands provide habitat for marsh bedstraw (Galium trifidum), a plant species of concern. This species is found growing on hummocks of tussock sedge (Carex stricta). Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina), a dragonfly species of concern was also found in Dimmick Meadow Brook Wetlands. This dragonfly species can be found in a variety of different types of wetlands. A small wetland to the west of the stream channel is a red spruce palustrine woodland. This natural community of concern is dominated by red spruce (Picea rubens) with a thick shrub understory.

Threats and Stresses – Dimmick Meadow Brook Wetlands is in a secluded part of Delaware State Forest and is well buffered to protect the wetland against sediment and pollutants in runoff. Introduction of invasive species threatens the integrity of the wetland.

Management Recommendations – Do not cut any of the forest within 328 feet (100 meters) of the wetland edge to maintain optimal buffering capacity of the surrounding upland habitat. Maintain the natural hydrology of the wetland to preserve the current habitat conditions.
3) The Army Corps of Engineers failed to find supporting bedrock using core drilling for the Tocks Island Dam project only miles downstream from the proposed Tennessee Pipeline crossing. The Delaware River's riverbed likely does not contain the bedrock necessary to contain the high pressure, oil-based, barium-laced drilling mud used in Horizontal Directional Drilling proposed for the pipeline's crossing, risking the possibility of a "frac out" like has occurred in recent years in Susquehanna and Luzerne Counties during similar HDD projects.

Third spill at pipeline site sullies Susquehanna County creek (August 10, 2011)


A third spill muddied a high value Susquehanna County stream on Monday, the day state regulators allowed construction of a major natural gas pipeline to resume after two spills in five days halted the operation.

Drilling mud - a mixture of bentonite clay and water - erupted through natural weaknesses in rock and soil as subcontractors for Laser Northeast Gathering Co. were boring a path for the pipeline under Laurel Lake Creek on July 29, Aug. 2 and Monday.


Drilling blowout in Back Mountain (May 8, 2012)


The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a blowout at a natural gas pipeline installation near Leonards Creek in the Kunkle section of Dallas Township.

Chief Gathering LLC, which was recently bought out by PVR Partners, is laying a natural gas pipeline from wells in Susquehanna County to connect to the Transco interstate pipeline in Dallas.

The blowout occurred last week as contractors were boring beneath wetlands and some of the mud they were using blew out into the creek, according to state Department of Environmental Protection Spokeswoman Colleen Connolly. She did not know how much mud got  into the creek.


4) Last, and perhaps most of all, by enabling this project, you are committing to a wasteful, trillion dollar, destructive fossil fuel future whereas clean energy alternatives clearly exist. The Tennessee Pipeline serves as the artery for produced Marcellus Shale gas to be moved to market where the supply of gas is currently at a glut and the public necessity required for the use of eminent domain is not readily apparent. The existing Tennessee Pipeline serves as a sufficient transmission route for current gas demand and the NEUP pipeline loop system only adds midstream capacity and storage that bolsters the investment interests in power plant projects like the proposed and unnecessary Wawayanda and Newark generating stations.

See below for the Energy Information Administration's data that confirm the only increased demand in recent history is for new, unnecessary power plant construction in lieu of clean renewables.

The massive heavy industrialization of the rural landscapes for hydraulic fracturing and related infrastructure to our west do not happen without consequence to the reputation, public health, environment, and heritage here in Pike County where gas leasing for the Marcellus has occurred as recently as 2009. The completion of the Tennessee Pipeline Northeast Upgrade Project coupled with power plant projects and other pipelines like the Commonwealth, Columbia, Constitution, Transco, and MARC 1 only guarantee a full shale development scenario in even the least economic parts of the shale play, such as the Upper Delaware River Basin.

There are as many reasons to stop the Tennessee Pipeline NEUP as there are residents in Bradford, Pike, Sussex, and Passaic Counties staring down the survey stakes now in place along their favorite rural roads as the pipeline segments are delivered to our respective pipe yards. I could go on and on, but there is no more time. Your inaction now will burden our children's and grandchildren's future with dire consequences, externalities, and opportunity costs that may be irreparable. This is the choice you have to make today. Stop the Tennessee Pipeline or we will.

Very Sincerely,

Alex Lotorto
Lifelong Pike County Resident

I sent this poem to you in 2011 that is now a song I've sung at many gatherings. I think you should review it if you doubt my sincerity.

My Pike County hometown, you might have been through.
Missed it if you blinked your eyes.
The grave of the Tocks Island Dam
and the cradle of paradise.

Five years old, by a creek called Shohola
Rod and tackle in my small hands,
We found our family fishing hole but,
I got our lines caught in a branch.

Twelve years old, I first time picked up a gun,
With my father we hiked our woods.
Found ourselves a nice place to hunt
And for days in my tree stand I've stood.

Those forests and streams will greet you
If you can find some honest work
The Lord's led me away from there
But like moonshine, I always return.

In Pittsburgh, a new day, I looked to the east
Into the rising sun,
A fiery trail blaze in front of me
Marking my way back home

They're coming for pipelines they say, they say
They're coming to frack they say
But we will fight them, oh yes we will
'Til we're six feet in the grave.

But we will fight them, oh yes we will
'Til we're six feet in the grave.

My Pike County hometown, you might have been through.
Missed it if you blinked your eyes.
The grave of the Tocks Island Dam
and the cradle of paradise.

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