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Judge rules against pipeline

Environmental impact cited

HARTFORD -- A federal judge has sided with Connecticut officials in their battle to halt a proposed natural gas pipeline beneath Long Island Sound.

US District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport ruled last week against the US Commerce Department, which three years ago rejected Connecticut's objection to the proposed Islander East pipeline. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced the decision yesterday.

Underhill said the Islander East project, a 50-mile pipeline from Branford to Yaphank, N.Y., failed to consider the environmental impact on Long Island Sound. He ordered the Commerce Department to reconsider its decision.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez "concluded that the national interest outweighed the adverse coastal effects . . . because those effects would be limited in scope and temporary in duration," Underhill said. "That conclusion is not supported by evidence or data and is therefore arbitrary and capricious."

Blumenthal and state Environmental Commissioner Gina McCarthy, who oppose the project, said yesterday that Underhill's decision dooms the project.

"The outcome confirms our essential point that the commerce secretary disregarded both hard facts and evidence in his illegal decision," Blumenthal said. "For now -- and hopefully forever -- this decision means that we have conquered an environmental and economic catastrophe."

An e-mail seeking comment was sent to the Department of Commerce.

John Sheridan, a spokesman for Islander East in Waltham, Mass., said Spectra Energy and Keyspan Corp., the two companies promoting the project, have not decided on their next step.

"We're still committed to working with the [Department of Environmental Protection] and other stakeholders," he said.

Islander East promoters say the project would supply natural gas to Connecticut, New York City, and Long Island and bring economic benefits such as increased gas supply alternatives and competition.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has not opposed construction of a pipeline across the Sound, but says the proposed route is not acceptable. State environmental officials say it would damage water quality, natural resources, and prime shellfish beds.

Underhill said Islander East backers could seek permission to run the pipeline adjacent to an Iroquois gas pipeline originating in Milford.

Blumenthal said state officials would not object.

The legal skirmish is over differing interpretations of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

State environmental officials have already denied the project a water quality permit.

That decision is being appealed in federal court, Blumenthal said.

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