OSWEGO — All’s well that ends well, and it appears that National Grid’s proposed under river gas pipeline project may just end well after all.
John and Ruth Ayres, of 2 Pond Path, were about to lose their peace and quiet, along with a considerable portion of their backyard, to the project. But upon making the significance and magnitude of that loss clear to the city at its April 27 Common Council meeting, the Council withheld their stamp of approval once again, insisting for the second time that National Grid come up with another better plan, if possible.
“Dear Mr. Mayor,” the letter John and Ruth Ayres wrote of their plight, and which Mayor William Barlow read to the Council April 27, began, “Due to the COVID-19 we are unable to attend or participate in the public session at the Common Council meeting tonight regarding the National Grid Pipeline 55 Project revision dated March 9, 2020. We are writing to express our concern regarding the negative effect this project will have on our life at 2 Pon Path, Oswego. After seeing the revised plan for the first time on Friday, 4/24/2020, we have great concern about the impact this will have on our property. We purchased this property in late 2017, and it was chosen because of its location to the river, its privacy with fencing and old-growth cedars, and the abundance of wildlife. It is also close to the Oswego Hospital. The cedars provide shelter for numerous birds year-round, noise abatement, and blockage from wind and dirt from traffic, and offers us generous privacy. We spent a considerable amount of money on property improvements and landscaping which will be totally destroyed, and the temporary construction easement is more than half our backyard. This will include removal of our privacy fence, six old-growth, irreplaceable cedars, all the shrubbery and perennials, and several other trees. We’ll have to endure at least six months, probably not including prepping of the site, of considerable truck noise and dust, diesel fuel, and invasion of privacy. Forty feet doesn’t include the additional 20 feet of permanent easement which we also own and maintain. We are also concerned about the structural integrity of the foundations of our newly-positioned structures due to significant vibration from truck traffic and other heavy-equipment activity. It appears there is a staging or parking area on the northwest section labeled temporary construction easement, a 20 feet wide construction entrance. We are also concerned about the property value loss, and being senior citizens, the property won’t return in our lifetime anywhere near what we now have. It would have been appreciated if we had had prior notice of this event given the extreme effect it has on our property. We appreciate you reading our letter, and your entry of our letter into the meeting notes.”
National Grid Senior Counsel, Ben Weisel, immediately agreed to “investigate revisions to our designs to address these concerns,” and it appears that those revisions are amenable to the Ayres and that the project will move forward.
“The pipeline was going to be taking a jog,” said Seventh Ward Councilman Robert Corradino, “and instead of going in a straight line, as it was heading north, it was going to take a jog to the west and then continue north. It was going to disrupt quite a bit of John and Ruth Ayres’ yard. So, we met to discuss proposed changes that the city engineer actually came up with initially. They’re (National Grid) doing some test boring to see if it’s feasible, ‘cause without being able to look through the asphalt road, we don’t know what’s truly under there. We know there’s sewer pipes and water pipes. So, we’re working on it with National Grid. Nothing’s been decided, but we’re hopeful that we can make this jog, instead of in their yard, in the middle of the road of Burden Drive, which will not disrupt quite a bit of their property. It just makes more sense if we can put the jog in the road as opposed to in their property.”
Nevertheless, the cedar trees appear to be doomed.
“There’s no way around that one,” Corradino said.
City Engineer Jeffrey Hinderliter contacted Corradino with an update on the situation.
“National Grid has done some test holes to locate utilities,” Hinderliter said in a message to Corradino, “and it looks like the only impact to the Ayres will be the cedar trees. Ruth Ayres joined us on site and seemed pleased with the change. National Grid is also minimizing the easement to avoid her fence. All in all, this should have no impact to their physical property.”
In a later interview, Hinderliter added more detail to the situation and its resolution.
“The pipe itself will be moving to the east, closer to the road, further from their property,” Hinderliter said, “and as a result, there will be very minimal impact to their property. Anywhere that they (National Grid) disturb, as far as impacting the city’s property, will be restored. So, the main restoration for the city will be the sidewalk through there. Otherwise, as long as they are able to fit it (the pipeline) there, then that’s where it will go...At this point, I have yet to receive an actual drawing showing where everything is, but my understanding is that they’ve basically been able to eliminate impacts to the Ayres’ property, and that’s a win for us as a city.
“The cypress trees will be gone regardless,” he continued. “Just the impacts from construction will probably do their damage. So, the property owner is fine with those trees going. The property owner will be compensated for their value by National Grid most likely. That’s typical. Standard business is that if those are their (the Ayres’) trees, then National Grid will compensate them the value of whatever is getting taken down. As a city, we don’t get involved in the particular negotiations between a property owner and the utility company. If it’s city property, then we can get involved in those.
“By moving the gas line to the east, they’ve minimized how much of the actual Ayres’ property will be taken, and my understanding also is that they’ve reduced the size of the easement in that particular area further. Their original proposal was a 20-foot easement, 10 feet to either side of their gas main. They’re going to reduce that. The main idea is that if they need to work on it, they can work on it from public space rather than having to work on private property.
“Based on my conversations, it sounds like they’ve worked with us as a city, they’ve worked with the homeowner now, and that’s really what we were hoping for is open communication, really striving to collaborate to come up with a solution that’s best for everyone.”
Both Corradino and Hinderliter brought a lot of this together.
“I see that as part of my role,” Hinderliter said. “As the engineer for the city, it’s doing what’s best for the city and its citizens.”
The pipeline project is slated to begin in April 2021. The revised plan will be coming before the council’s Administrative Services Committee, followed by the full Common Council, in the near future.