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Planning board refuses to hear public comments

READING CENTER – The Town of Reading Planning Board, the group with the final say on whether the Inergy Corporation will be allowed to build a $40-million project to store 88 million gallons of liquid propane gas in salt caverns,  refused to hear a planned presentation by a group critical of the project last Thursday, June 16.
GasFreeSeneca, a coalition of 70 businesses and area individuals against the project, had planned on chemical engineer Chuck Sorenson to present information about the possible dangers from the Inergy company gas storage plan.
Sorenson made a similar presentation to Watkins Glen Village Trustees nearly two weeks ago.
“We know that you and the Town of Reading Planning Board have been involved in this project for some time,” the group wrote in a letter to Newell in early June. “But we believe we have information that you may not have uncovered during this process.”
But Thursday night planning board members said they had approved a motion at a meeting several weeks ago to not allow any public board discussions on the Inergy project until the Department of Environmental Conservation finishes its project review.
The DEC last week received a response from Inergy to questions about a draft environmental statement. The DEC has 30 days to respond to Inergy.
“We have listened to this up-down and for too long,” board member Frank Gigliotti said. “It’s disrupting the meeting. We are going nowhere with it.”
Chairman Newell said he did not agree with limiting public discussion, but was overruled by the majority of the board.
“The minutes of the earlier meeting support it,” he said.
Later in the meeting the board discussed an invitation-only, Inergy-related meeting held several weeks ago at the Inergy site on Route 14A. Members of area planning boards and other government officials were invited to the meeting organized locally by the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development.
 “I got a phone call from SCOPED and they asked me to come to a meeting the following morning to visit the site and have some kind of discussion about the whole project,” Newell said.
“The person who called said the purpose was to inform planning board members.”
Newell told the board he had declined the invitation because he believed he might have been in violation of the New York State open meeting law which makes it illegal for quorums of public officials to meet privately, except in very specific instances.
But board member Gigliotti disagreed.
“It was an invitation to all the leaders of the county,” Gigliotti said. “It was an  invitation to go and ask any question you wanted. I made a point to get there because I knew this was an important issue and I needed to ask questions. It wasn’t a planning board meeting, it was an informative session.”
Town of Reading Planning Board member Judy Richards also attended.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government said that having a quorum of members of any decision-making agency – like a planning board – at a private meeting with the proponents of a project might be a violation of state law.
“It’s all about if anyone has intent to take action,” Freeman said.
Kelsey Jones, Executive Director of SCOPED said he was not sure who attended or if anyone kept a count. But he did say that Inergy Midstream President Bill Moler was present to answer questions and to be part of the conversations among the attendees.
“Moler has made the offer to others if they are interested in touring the site,” Jones said.
 “He made that offer to the wineries when he met with them.”
Inergy held two closed-door meetings Thursday June 9 with business owners (including some wineries) at the SCOPED offices on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen to make a case for approval of the project.





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