Energy Sovereignty

Archives from the Stop the PSU Pipeline Campaign and the early days of CITY-GREEN

Right-to-Know Documents – Review Session #1 – UPDATED

(Updated April 13 to reflect corrections and clarifications sent in by Peg Hambrick in No. 2 below. Corrections and clarifications always welcome.)

I spent three hours at the Borough Building today, beginning the process of sifting through emails and other documents to create a detailed timeline of how the pipeline project unfolded. I’m very grateful to Borough Manager Tom Fountaine and other Borough employees’ cooperative, professional assistance gathering and preparing documents for public review.

I’ll try to organize more of the info in time for next week’s Monday Morning Pipeline News and will continue reviewing more documents next week. But I wanted to post a few things now because I think they indicate serious breaches of trust that will need to be acknowledged before they can be repaired, so that the State College and Penn State community can develop an inclusive, effective and Community Bill of Rights-compliant Local Energy System Planning process and team going forward.

Dealing with trust violations and repairing damaged and broken relationships takes a lot of time and energy; so the sooner we can get started, the better.

1. Pipeline Definition

In an April 2, 2013 email to State College Public Works Director Mark Whitfield from Jim Albitz (the third party pipeline reviewer hired by the Borough just before the April 1 meeting), Albitz acknowledged that “the definition of a distribution pipeline is not very clean. It’s more defined as what it is not.”

However, he confirmed that the proposed pipeline is a “transmission line,” by copying the CFR 49 192.3 ‘Definitions’ section with the footnote: “A large volume customer may receive similar volumes of gas as a distribution center, and includes factories, power plants and institutional users of gas.”

2. Private Notice

In a series of emails beginning October 10, 2012, Peg Hambrick, Highlands Civic Association Executive Committee member and  the liaison to the Neighbor to Neighbor Program, reported on a meeting of the HCA “executive group” to

  • Mayor Elizabeth Goreham
  • Ron Deck
  • HCA President Theresa Lafer

Hambrick wrote:

“Hi, Elizabeth,

The HCA Executive group discussed the issue regarding the construction of a gas line on Prospect and Burrowes summer 2013 to accommodate the conversion of the PSU power plant from coal.

The committee was happy to hear of cleaner, more efficient fuel use in the future!  We wholeheartedly recommend that the Highlands neighborhood be apprised of this project as soon as possible.  Those immediately affected on Prospect and Burrowes should be personally invited to an information meeting hosted by Borough, University and Columbia Gas officials, while others who may be inconvenienced could be invited through the listserv.

We look forward to being informed of this process.”

(In my original post, I mistakenly reported that Peg’s email included the word “thrilled” – I was working from my notes, and had paraphrased the gist of Peg’s email as “HCA executive group thrilled w/ conversion, calls for neighborhood meeting.”) 

On October 11, Mayor Goreham wrote to

  • David Gray, PSU Vice President of Finance and Business
  • Ford Stryker, PSU Associate Vice President for Physical Plant
  • Borough Manager Tom Fountaine
  • Borough Staff Assistant Sharon Ergler
  • Borough Council President Don Hahn

Goreham thanked Gray and Stryker for their recent private presentation regarding the pipeline project, noting that she had shared the information by telephone with Peg Hambrick, that Peg had discussed the pipeline with the HCA executive committee and that “[Peg] asked that everyone [on the HCA executive committee] keep the information confidential.”

Goreham also noted that she was “impressed” that Gray and Stryker appeared to recognize the need to inform homeowners, and suggested they move quickly to do so.

Peg further clarified:

“Regarding the email from Elizabeth Goreham to the University staff and Borough Council members, I was not copied on subsequent emails from Mayor Goreham about the pipeline and I was unaware of their contents until recently, so I am not responsible for what was conveyed.  I am not sure what “confidential” information the Mayor is referring to.  The HCA’s stance has been to encourage the Borough, Columbia Gas and the University to discuss the pipeline with members of our community.  Our meetings are open to members of the Highlands.

You invested a great deal of time getting source information through the review of the Borough’s emails and I just wanted to make sure you are accurately summarizing the one email which I authored.”

Within 45 minutes of receiving Goreham’s email, Stryker emailed:

  • Alex Novak, Marketing and Communications Manager for PSU-OPP
  • Rob Cooper, PSU-OPP Director
  • Dan Sieminkski, PSU Assistant Vice President for Business & Finance
  • Michael DiRaimo, PSU Special Assistant to the President for Governmental Affairs
  • Madeline Cantu, Design Resources Coordinator for PSU-OPP

Stryker forwarded Goreham’s message and stated that Donna Newberg, David Gray’s executive assistant, would handle scheduling for a neighborhood meeting.

Less than an hour later, Alex Novak replied to the group, adding two new recipients:

  • Lisa Powers, PSU Director of Public Information
  • Russ Bedell, Columbia Gas Communications and Community Relations Manager

Novak wrote:

“…even with the assurance of confidentiality from the HCA executive committee, it seems now that this info is out in the community, the meeting with affected residents should happen as quickly as possible to be effective.”

3. Concern about/Admiration for Citizen Participation

On March 19, Councilman Ron Filipelli sent an email to Council President Don Hahn, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine, reflecting on the public comments made during the March 18 Council meeting:

“Don, Elizabeth, and Tom:

After last night’s public comment section and today’s viral messaging on the Highlands listserve, I thought it wise to call Dan Sieminski in my capacity as Council liaison with the University. I told Dan that I am very concerned about the flash movement that seems to be developing around this issue and that, in my opinion, it has the potential to develop into something very serious. I wanted him to also convey my concern to David Gray.

Apparently one of the gentlemen who spoke last night also addressed the Trustees in Hershey over the weekend. I am impressed with the rapid organization of the outpouring last night, and particularly with the fact that all of the speakers were on script and had obviously been briefed on the issues.

As you probably know, there will be an organizational meeting on Friday at St. Andrew’s Church. I do not want to be alarmist, but I think there is the potential here for civil disobedience in the event that nothing is done to cool this down. Dan was in agreement with the seriousness of the matter. The last thing we want is a confrontation of our citizens, including students, with Columbia Gas. This could put Penn State and the Borough on a collision course.

I don’t know what is possible at this late date. Whatever transpires between now and April 1st, I would ask that Council be kept well informed.”

Tom Fountaine replied:

“Ron, thanks for doing this. We have been in touch with Rob Cooper throughout the day and Rob and Ford [Stryker] are also well aware of the potential for a major problem with this project. Mark Whitfield is also tracking down an independent engineer that can provide the borough with facts about the safety/location issues.

However, like you, I am not sure that having an independent opinion will do much to cool off the strong opinions and terrific grass roots organizing that is occurring. I will keep Council posted on developments as they occur.

One thing we all need to be aware of is the timing of the permit. Since Columbia filed the permit yesterday, by ordinance, we are required to act on the permit by April 1. Mark [Whitfield], [Borough Engineer] Amy [Kerner] and I are in the process of determining how this can be delayed. However, I am starting to think that a special meeting next week may be best since this single issue will completely monopolize the April 1 agenda.”

4. Note:

Borough staff are keeping very close track of citizen online discussion forums, including the Highlands Civic Association list-serve, circulating email copies among themselves and regularly updating Penn State officials about developments on those forums to coordinate responses.


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One thought on “Right-to-Know Documents – Review Session #1 – UPDATED

  1. Dan Duffy on said:

    Nice job. We are a very fortunate community to have your very serious and thoughtful leadership.

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