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NYRI power line application deemed complete

Clock starts ticking on possible appeal to feds

By FRITZ MAYER

ALBANY, NY — After more than two years of additional study, the application for the controversial power line is complete. On August 27, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) sent a letter to New York Regional Interconnect, Inc. (NYRI) informing the company that their application to build a 190-power line in the state was now considered complete.

The application was first deemed incomplete in June 2006. The PSC determined that NYRI had not provided enough information about various issues, including possible alternative routes, and information about the proposed line’s environmental impacts and impacts on viewsheds.

In a statement, Chris Thompson, president of NYRI, called the development a “significant turning point.” He said, “We are very pleased by the PSC’s decision and were optimistic all along that we would be judged fairly by the merits of our project.”

Members of opposition groups said they expected that the application would be complete at some point and that they are hopeful that they can defeat the proposal in the PSC permitting process.

Dr. Bill Pammer, commissioner of Planning and Environmental Management for Sullivan County, said the next step in the process is for the PSC to determine whether the NYRI project should be issued a certificate of environmental compatibility. That will be decided after a series of hearings and public sessions over the matter. Pammer said the county will be aggressively involved in the process, and will be represented by a lawyer that was hired by Communities Against Regional Connection (CARI). Sullivan County has thus far given $100,000 to CARI for the purpose of opposing the powerline.

A prehearing conference has been scheduled with two administrative law judges, and will be held on September 8, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Mohawk Valley Community College, 1101 Sherman Drive in Utica. The proceedings hearings will be broadcast over the Internet at www.newyorkadmin.com. (Click on New York State Public Service Commission. RealPlayer software is required and may be downloaded from the website).

In October, two forums and information sessions will be held, at which the public will be allowed to comment. One such session will occur on October 21 at 1:00 p.m. at the State University of New York (SUNY) campus at 108 Ravine Parkway in Oneonta.

Another will be held on October 22, at 1:00 p.m., at Mohawk Valley Community College.

The federal government may ultimately play a significant role in this ongoing battle. The PSC received the final documents they had requested from NYRI on August 8. Therefore, according to James Denn, a spokesman for the PSC, that’s when the clock started ticking on the year-long wait before NYRI can attempt to get federal officials involved in the project. If by the end of the year, the application by NYRI has been rejected by the PSC, or the company feels not enough progress has been made, it can appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to step in and grant the company the necessary permits to move forward.

Some analysts in the past have suggested that the only way for NYRI to be successful in their bid to build the powerline is to go the FERC route because the New York State Legislature passed a law that stripped NYRI of the power to use eminent domain to acquire the land necessary to complete the project. NYRI officials have said in the past that it would be extremely difficult to build the line without eminent domain.

Pammer said that it is not clear how the appeal process would work, but that even if NYRI does apply to FERC, it doesn’t automatically follow that FERC would grant NYRI’s request. As CARI is battling NYRI on the state level, it is also pursuing litigation at the federal level, questioning the legitimacy of the process that has been set up by the Department of Energy, which grants FERC the ability to override the state’s authority in the matter of powerline siting in some circumstances.