Thanks to everyone who attended last night’s hearing on the pipeline and power plant!
If you haven’t submitted a comment yet or if you have, but have more to say, there’s still time to submit a written comment. Here’s the information from the DEP’s notice and some talking points from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and other sources you can refer to when preparing your comments.
“DEP will also accept written comments on the Chapter 105 Water Obstruction and Encroachment permit applications and the Water Quality Certification request through Monday November 6, 2017, and written comments on the ESCGP-2 application until November 20, 2017. Comments may be emailed to RA-EPWW-SCRO@PA.GOV or mailed to PA Department of Environmental Protection, South-central Regional Office, Waterways and Wetlands Program, 909 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110.”
TALKING POINTS FOR DTE PIPELINE COMMENTS
Here are a few areas you may want to address in your comments. Comments previously submitted to DEP and the Delaware River Basin Commission for related permits/approvals for this project cover so many of the points so well that I just copied excerpts directly from them. You’ll find much more covered in either of the two documents from which I’ve excerpted passages. A couple of additional sources are listed that provide basic descriptions of the plans. DRN’s comments address them.
In addition to all of this, there are other concerns. I’ll be addressing inconsistencies in reporting of the status of asbestos on the power plant site that could cause problems if contaminated soil is disturbed. There’s a similarly inconsistent story of extant PCBs on the site. Chari Towne will be covering those in her extended comments that will be submitted in writing. In both cases and others, documentation of testing results, remediation plans, or other required documents are missing or were never completed.
IMPACTS TO EXCEPTIONAL VALUE WATERWAYS:
The proposed Birdsboro Pipeline Project will require approximately 128 acres of earth disturbance, and permanent impacts to 493 linear feet and temporary impacts to 649 linear feet of streams including the Schuylkill River (WWF) and two Unnamed Tributaries (UNT’s) to the Schuylkill River (WWF); Monocacy Creek and eighteen UNT’s to Monocacy Creek (WWF); four UNT’s to Manatawny Creek (CWF); Little Manatawny Creek (CWF) and one UNT to Little Manatawny Creek (CWF), 0.2 acre of permanent impacts to floodway, 2.0 acres of temporary impacts floodway, 1.09 acre of temporary wetland impacts, and 1.22 acre of permanent wetland impacts that are associated with permanent right-of-way maintenance.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network notes that the Little Manatawny Creek is on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Wild Trout List due to the presence of naturally reproducing brown trout. As such, all wetlands in and along the floodplains of the Little Manatawny and its tributaries are classified as Exceptional Value (EV) and cannot be degraded. The proposed Birdsboro Pipeline will result in extensive and permanent alteration of wetlands, including EV wetlands along the Little Manatawny. In addition, forested wetlands along the pipeline route will likely be converted to emergent wetlands.
Hay Creek, from its Headwaters downstream to its confluence with the Schuylkill River, is also designated as a Wild Trout Water. Therefore, all wetlands in the floodplain of the Hay Creek are also EV and not allowed to be degraded.
PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUE IMPACTS:
The pipeline will directly cross a total of 17 waterbodies. Eleven (11) of these water body crossings will be completed using open cut dry crossing methods, five (5) will be crossed using HDD and one (1) will be crossed by conventional bore. Five (5) additional waterbodies are located within the construction workspace, but are not directly crossed by the pipeline.
DTE BPP proposes to directly cross 17 waterbodies: 11crossings will use open cut dry crossing methods, 5 crossings will use horizontal directional drilling (HDD), and 1 crossed will use conventional bore. In addition to the 5 waterbody crossings, it appears that 7 wetlands will also be crossed using HDD, a process that results in cuttings or spoils. The wetland and waterbody HDD crossings total approximately 4,500 feet, nearly a mile, with approximately1,400 feet of that total associated with the HDD crossing of the Schuylkill River.14 This volume of HDD will undoubtedly produce large amounts of spoils. The applicant states that “All HDD fluids and cuttings recovered from the bore pits will be hauled off-site to a state approved facility.” No mention is made regarding the potential for some of the spoils to be contaminated. The power plant site where the HDD crossing of the Schuylkill River will exit has seen industrial use since 1740. The level of contamination of the soils on this brownfield site has prompted DTE to make the recommendation that:
Fill containing surface soils located in the proposed pipeline right-of-way should be removed prior to performing pipeline work. The fill containing surface soil should be disposed at properly regulated waste facility. 15
Despite the agricultural nature of the region the DTE BPP will cross, this area has a long history of development, including industrial uses that may have passed from memory. Amity Township is the oldest incorporated township in Berks County with settlement dating to the early 1700s. HDD spoils from the Schuylkill River crossing and the other waterbody and wetland crossings may include harmful constituents which may require special handling and disposal. This docket should include special conditions requiring special handling of spoils.
Furthermore, this docket does not address the threat of inadvertent returns, or inadvertent spills of drilling fluids. Inadvertent returns are considered to be a common occurrence with HDD crossings.16
An analysis by FracTracker and the Clean Air Council finds that approximately 202,000 gallons of drilling fluids have been accidentally released in 90 different spill events while constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania. In a more recent update, FracTracker estimates these occurred at 42 distinct locations.17
Among the Mariner East 2 spills was one not far from the path of the DTE BPP in Cumru Township where approximately 500 gallons of fluids surfaced in retention pond on May 31, 2017. The drinking water intake for the Borough of Pottstown’s is located just a short distance downstream from the site of the proposed HDD crossing of the Schuylkill River. Given problems that have resulted with inadvertent returns during construction of other pipelines such as the Mariner East 2, DRBC should require special conditions in the docket regarding notification, containment, cleanup, and restoration activities.
The Birdsboro Pipeline’s construction will result in the loss of riparian vegetation. For each pipeline construction technique, there is a resulting loss of foliage associated with clearing the stream banks. This reduction in foliage increases stream temperature and reduces its suitability for fish incubation, rearing, foraging and escape habitat. Benthic macroinvertebrate populations are also reduced with loss of riparian vegetation, as diverse benthic populations disappear; literature has shown decreased denitrification and cycling of nutrients and algae, and reduction of water quality impacts farther downstream that can impact water supplies and habitat downstream.
The loss of vegetation also makes the stream more susceptible to erosion events, as the natural barrier along the stream bank has been removed. Deposited sediment from construction activities can fill in the interstitial spaces of the streambed, changing its porosity and composition, and thereby increasing embeddedness and reducing riffle area and quality. Furthermore, deposited sediment has the potential to fill in stream pool and floodplain areas and reduce stream depth downstream of the construction area. In turn this can exacerbate future flooding impacts.
Many of the sediment and erosion control best management practices used during pipeline construction are not designed to be protective during significant rain events. For example, heavy rains during two tropical storms in August and September of 2011 caused extensive failures to erosion and sediment controls on pipelines under construction in north central Pennsylvania resulting in environmental harm from sedimentation plumes in nearby water resources. With impacts of climate change and catastrophic climate destabilization, more extreme weather events and storm events have become a regular occurrence and these extreme weather events and the pollution impacts as well as natural impacts they cause (increased wind throw, increased erosion, more blowouts during construction due to heavy rains, more runoff and extreme peak flows, etc.) should be considered.
The Birdsboro Pipeline would also cut across steep slopes. Past pipeline projects in the steep northeast have experienced more sediment blowouts and issues with erosion on these steep slopes, especially when the cuts eliminate the forest on these steep slopes. Even with BMPs in place, these steep slopes are irreparably changed and erosion even years later has been noted on old and relatively new pipeline projects alike. Continued erosion and raw banks long term due to only herbaceous vegetative growth along a pipeline path leads to opportunistic invasive plant species often colonizing these disturbed areas. Studies documenting the effects of stream crossing construction on aquatic ecosystems identify sediment as the primary stressor for construction on river and stream ecosystems. During pipeline stream crossing construction, discrete peaks of high suspended sediment concentration occur during activities such as blasting, trench excavation, and backfilling. The excavation of streambeds can generate persistent plumes of sediment concentration and turbidity. This sedimentation has serious consequences for the benthic invertebrates and fish species whose survival is crucial for healthy aquatic ecosystems. There have been documented reductions in benthic invertebrate densities, changes to the structure of aquatic communities, changes in fish foraging behavior, reductions in the availability of food, and increases in fish egg mortality rates. In addition to the stream crossing construction activity itself, the associated new road construction increases the risk of erosion and sedimentation
DRN also maintains that DRBC erred when it approved the docket for Birdsboro Power. That docket constituted a special use permit in accordance with section 6.3.4 of the Commission’s Flood Plain Regulations (18 CFR 415.33). Section 6.3.4 of the Commission’s Flood Plain Regulations requires that: “[p]ublic utility facilities, roads, railroad tracks and bridges shall be designed to minimize increases in flood elevations and shall be compatible with local comprehensive flood plain development plans to the extent applicable.” However, DRBC approved filling of the floodplain at the proposed power plant site with compacted fill to raise the land surface by 4 feet. The final grade is intended to be at least 1 foot above the regulatory flood elevation. Given the footprint of the proposed power plant facilities (estimated to be in the range of 200,000 to 400,000 square feet), this floodplain filling would displace at minimum of 600,000 cubic feet of floodwaters when inundated by the regulatory flood. By allowing this filling of the 100-year regulatory floodplain, flooding in the vicinity of the power plant site as well as downstream will be exacerbated. Past flooding in Birdsboro has been attributed to backup of the Hay Creek from high stages of the Schuylkill River. The proposed fill on the power plant site will only exacerbate the issue of Hay Creek backup during high Schuylkill flows. DRBC should have required analysis of the displaced floodwaters prior to approval of Birdsboro Power’s docket.
SCENIC RIVER DESIGNATION:
A LENGTHY discussion of the impacts to the Schuylkill’s Scenic River designation starts on page 5.