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A pipeline nightmare

Living with disruption

By FRITZ MAYER

HANCOCK, NY — Bill Zelop, a union bricklayer, who with his finance Anna Marie Anderson lives on 11 acres and a slice of paradise on Hungry Hill Road in Hancock, first thought they could handle it. He thought they could brace themselves for the stress of having up to 100 workmen on their property, and huge vehicles churning earth just 30 yards or so from his bedroom window. At first, the couple put a cooler with beer and sodas out for the guys to drink.

Michael Armiak, a spokesman for Millennium said the workers are not allowed to drink beer on the job, and moreover there was a snow fence between the workers and the house.

In any case, Zelop’s attitude quickly began to change after several experiences, such as having one of his dogs come home after rolling in human feces on three separate occasions. “They started July 9 and the first port-a-john wasn’t on that site until the second week of September,” said Zelop on a visit to the offices of The River Reporter.

Armiak said the company has no record of such a complaint, and also there was no portable toilet on the site early on because only clearing was taking place, and workers weren’t on the property for that many hours a day.

Another negative experience was five days of blasting to break up a section of bluestone that was standing in the way of laying the line. Before the blasting started, the man who oversaw it said he knew that things had been bad around the house, but they were about to get a whole lot worse. Zelop said, “One day, we came home and every picture and mirror had been knocked of the walls and onto the floor.

Millennium Pipeline owns the pipeline, but most of the work was performed by Precision Pipeline and subcontractors. A representative from Millennium is due to check out Zelop’s foundation later this spring.

Then, there is the matter of the leach field for the septic system. Zelop had a picture of it. “This area is a cesspool; it used to be our leach field, now it’s an oozing smoking cesspool, and that’s the way they left it,” he said. “They say they’re going to come back in the spring and fix it, but it’s been that way since July. When you flush the toilet, you can watch the bubbles come up out of the ground.”

Armiak, said that the company informed all the landowners before they started the project that it would not be complete until 2009, and they intend to inspect all complaints. He said the affected portion of the leach field was in the right of way, and the company had to disturb it to put the line in. But, he said it will be fixed in the spring.

Perhaps the biggest challenge came when Zelop had an altercation with a man driving a truck in connection with the project one night in August. He and Anderson had taken to walking the dogs rather than letting them roam free as in the past. According to Zelop, the truck driver nearly hit Anderson and the dog. The driver and Zelop exchanged words and things escalated. Zelop said, “They said I shot at them, that the pellets went over their heads; it was an out and out lie.” Still, a police report was filed, and Zelop was arrested and held for an hour or so. Zelop was not prosecuted because no one showed up in court to pursue the matter. A spokesman for Precision Pipeline said that because the jobs is over, the employees that worked on the line, including those that filed the complaint, are no longer in the area.

The couple did get some money out of the whole pipeline deal. Because the workmen had to cut down many trees to put the line in, they were paid $8,000 for the loss of hardwoods, such as ash and cherry. Zelop figures the real worth was about $20,000. He said, “The land agent said, you’ll get $8,000, take it or leave it.”

Armiak said the amount was negotiated, and the owner was not forced to accept.

Zelop wishes the whole episode had never happened. He said he believes that when and if gas drilling comes to the area it will be just as bad for some folks as what he experienced with the pipeline. “They’re going to work around the clock, do what they have to do. We had guys working to 12:00 midnight in our yard. I went out at 11:30 p.m. The lights are on, I said, ‘Guys please, we want to get some sleep.’ No matter, ‘we’ve got to get the job done.’”

Contributed photo
Trucks working on the Millennium Pipeline parked on the other side of a leach field that, according to the homeowner, was damaged during the work last summer. (Click for larger version)