Gas Pipeline Controversy Front and Center at Monday's Borough Council Meeting
May 07, 2013 6:57 AM
by Kevin Horne
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It appears the controversy over a proposed high-pressure gas pipeline in State College isn't going away anytime soon.

At Monday night's borough council meeting pipeline opponents urged council members to stick to their guns. That follows the release of a letter from Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, which left open the possibility of legal action.

“I was a little irritated by the word ‘capricious,’” Councilman Peter Morris said of the letter. “I’ve been called worse things I guess.” In its letter Columbia Gas stated the permit denial was, "arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and against applicable law... "

Last month, the council voted unanimously to deny Columbia Gas a permit to begin construction on a high-pressure natural gas pipeline that would run through some residential areas of State College. The pipeline is needed to convert Penn State’s West Campus Steam Plant from coal to natural gas.

The letter sent from Columbia Gas to Borough Manager Tom Fountaine asks borough council to consider withdrawing its permit denial or face the possibility of a court battle.

“Columbia believes it would be a waste of resources (its own and the Borough’s) to request review of the denial of the Application and then, assuming reconsideration does not change the initial result, appeal the denial to the Court of Common Pleas,” the letter reads in part.

Under the original plan, the pipeline would have been routed through several State College Streets including, Bellaire Ave., University Dr., Prospect Ave., and Burrowes St. Bowing to public pressure, Penn State asked the gas company to consider an on-campus alternative route. That process is now underway and is expected to take several weeks.

Nine members of the community spoke on the subject during public hour at last night’s borough council meeting. As has become common practice at these meetings in recent weeks, members of the community strongly opposed the project.

“I am here to voice my appreciation for the courageous job you have done by standing up to Penn State and Columbia Gas,” said State College resident Janet Engeman, who lives near the proposed pipeline route on Prospect Avenue. “We are not through fighting with Columbia Gas over their unreasonable behavior.”

Leif Jensen, who also lives on Prospect Avenue, also lauded borough council for its opposition to the project.

“I made a plea that council be creative and courageous… you have been both” said Jensen. “Our collective resolve might be tested in the months to come. Please know that we strongly support you.”

Councilman Peter Morris, who has been vehement in his opposition to the pipeline project, stood by borough council’s decision to deny the permit.

“Our greatest strength in this dispute is the united front you have shown in your neighborhoods and to council. You are all incredibly strong on this issue,” said Morris. “I think if that if we were to somehow rescind the resolution, that united front would be broken and our power in this dispute lessened. Frankly, that would be a tragedy.”

Last week, borough council said it is reviewing the permit denial with its lawyer.

In other business, council members voted unanimously to approve an ordinance for the annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The 47th Arts Fest will be held in downtown State College from July 10 and run through July 14. An ordinance is required each year to shut down certain streets and allow for other changes during the week.

Chase Englund, a Penn State senior, was confirmed as the student government’s (UPUA) representative to Council.

Council also reviewed next year’s CATA budget and the possibility of expanding advertising on the side of the buses, although no vote was taken.

“I think the idea [of expanding advertising] is interesting and I’d be willing to go with he experiment,” said Councilwoman Sarah Klinetob. “Just as long as they don’t allow giant rum bottles on the side.”

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