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Inergy project called 'reckless'; also gets praise from stakeholders

WATKINS GLENThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation held a public hearing for the proposed Inergy, LLC, liquid gas and petroleum storage and transfer facility, Tuesday, Sept. 27, which attracted some 600 people to the Watkins Glen auditorium.
Starting at 6 p.m. Inergy representatives showed poster boards with information on the proposed facility in Reading.  The employees answered questions from the public, until the DEC comment period started at 7 p.m.
David Bimber, deputy regional permit administrator for DEC, started the session by explaining the state will evaluate all comments received, both orally and in writing, after the Oct. 10 deadline.  He said they will then request any additional information from Inergy after reviewing the comments.  Once satisfied, Bimber said the state will release the final generic environmental impact statement (GEIS), which will be used to make jurisdictional decisions.
The comments were from residents to industry members, specialists to local business owners.  The speakers represented both those for and against the gas storage facility.  Many comments against the proposal were met with ovations, while some pro-Inergy statements were met with negative shouting from the crowd.
Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars on Seneca Lake, said he is one of the 126 members of the Gas Free Seneca business coalition opposed to the plan.  He explained he wants Inergy to do a quantitative risk assessment (QRA) by an independent entity, adding the potential environmental footprint and economic impacts due to industrialization need to be reviewed.  As a business owner he also addressed how the project could hurt tourism.
“Tourists do not have to come here,” said Damiani.
Other speakers also called for the QRA to be done.
"My opinion of the draft is that it doesn't address public safety concerns," said Charles Sorensen, chemical engineer.  "There are no attempts to quantify risks.  There is no mention of impacts to the community and businesses if there is an accident."
He added not having an impact evaluation is reckless.  Sorensen explained the state environmental quality review (SEQR) even requests one.  He added, "I'm at a loss why this section has not been brought forward before by the applicant or DEC."
Gita Devi, owner of the Ginger Cat Bed and Breakfast in Reading, expressed concerns about the traffic noise impacting her business; something she said visitors complain even now with the existing level of traffic.  Her other comments also addressed having more information about what would happen in an accident.  She wanted to know if Reading and the surrounding towns would be able to handle a disaster.
"I don’t want to find out during an accident there’s no place to go,” said Devi about evacuation.
Hilary Lambert, watershed steward for the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, said her concerns were on how an accident would affect other lakes in the system.  She explained that since Seneca Lake drains into Cayuga Lake, what could degrade one would eventually degrade the other.  She added Cayuga Lake also feeds into Lake Ontario.
During the Inergy presentation hour, Joseph Campbell, organizer of Gas Free Seneca, said their group has obtained about 4,000 written petitions against the facility.  At a Watkins Glen village board meeting earlier in September, Campbell was asked how many of the petitions were local.  Campbell has since counted and said they have about 1,600 signatures from within a 20 mile radius of Watkins Glen.
David Crea, Reading resident and U.S. Salt process engineer, was the first public speaker and is in favor of the project.  He said he came to the area in 2001 and was part of the team that improved business at U.S. Salt.  He added Inergy buying the company in 2008 also helped improve the company’s productivity.  Speaking on safety concerns, he said propane is not explosive, as is being said, because it lacks the oxidizing agent.
“I ask the NYSDEC also assess that the DEIS is adequate,” said Crea.
Joann Armstrong Ruch, representing Finger Lakes Railway, also spoke in favor of the storage facility.  She said her company has worked with U.S. Salt and Norfolk Southern, and even provides shortline rail service to the U.S. Salt facility in Watkins Glen.
"Rail is safe and friendly transport," added Ruch.
Mitchell Dascher, president of U.S. Salt, said it was his recommendation to sell U.S. Salt to Inergy in 2008.  He added, "I've not been disappointed with being associated with Inergy."  Dascher said Inergy will invest money to make things better and safer.  He added people should look at the history of gas storage at the Reading location.
“What has happened over the last 40 years?” asked Dasher about liquid gas already being stored at U.S. Salt.
Other speakers in favor of the proposed gas storage business  pointed out the project is a $40 million capital investment, creating eight to 10 permanent jobs, and will be a source of property tax income for the school, county, and town.
Bill Moler, president of Inergy Midstream, answered questions from individual community members and gave a brief statement before the DEC public hearing period.  He gave background information, adding most people know by now what the project is.  He added that propane has been stored in Reading for 50 years already.  Moler explained this project would add 2.1 million barrels of propane to supplement what is already in this area.
“We’re storing clean energy, clean fossil fuels,” said Moler.
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