Schuyler legislature supports gas storage
WATKINS GLEN--The Schuyler County Legislature voted five to three in support of Crestwood’s liquid petroleum gas (LPG) storage project Monday night, June 9. Legislators Michael Lausell, Barbara Halpin and James Howell voted against the resolution.
The meeting was held in the county courtroom where nearly 200 people attended the meeting from both sides of the issue. Some residents were not allowed inside due to the lack of room.
The approved resolution urges Gov. Andrew Cuomo to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue the necessary approvals for the project to store LPG in salt caverns in the town of Reading. The resolution reads, “The Schuyler County Legislature concludes that Finger Lakes, through its submissions and compliance with all regulatory requests, has demonstrated that it has minimized impacts to the maximum extent practicable and that the caverns to be used for LPG storage are well-suited for such use.” It goes on to say, “Schuyler County’s Emergency Management Director is hereby directed to prepare and incorporate an appendix to the Hazardous Materials Plan addressing transportation related incidents involving the release of hazardous materials, specifically liquid petroleum gas.”
At the beginning of the meeting, the public was given 30 minutes for comments, which ranged both in support of and against the project. Many residents voiced their concerns about the facility’s environmental impact while also questioning the county’s emergency plan.
“Right now you have no emergency plan for that facility,” Jeremy Alderson said. “Are you incurring liability for the county?”
Schuyler County Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Brian Gardner said he disagreed with statements the county is not prepared to deal with an emergency situation at the site.
“To make a statement this county is not prepared is wrong,” Gardner said. “Do we have a plan for that facility? No. Do we have a plan for what could happen there? Absolutely.”
Other crowd members said the dangers resulting from the storage can be averted if it was not there in the first place, and it is impossible to engineer a fail-proof solution to the issue.
Crestwood LPG Storage Facility manager Barry Moon spoke about the salt caverns being used for storage, saying they are structurally safe and appropriate for gas storage. He said sonar issues had caused previously inaccurate reports of structural flaws within the cave. Several other U.S. Salt employees spoke to say they have confidence the gas storage can be conducted safely at the site.
After 30 minutes of public comment, Schuyler County Chairman Dennis Fagan moved on to the resolutions. Legislator Van Harp motioned to table the resolution, but the motion failed to pass in a tie vote. Halpin said it is clear there is no consensus on this project, and she would likely have supported this resolution if it were not for the title. She said she believes after the years of review, the DEC should be able to make a decision.
Howell said he is aware of the concerns from both sides of the argument, asking both sides to be respectful of the decision made by the legislature. Lausell continued to express his concerns with the legislation, citing the emergency plan as his main issue. He said the railroad trestle crossing the gorge and the road entering Watkins Glen from the north both have serious potential for a gas spill should an accident occur. Lausell also said he did not like the fact this resolution was not brought to the legislature’s attention until Wednesday’s legislative review committee meeting.
Before the vote, Fagan made a statement regarding requests he recuse himself from the issue, saying he has had no involvement since selling Fagan Engineers in 2012. He added he is not in support of fracking in the Finger Lakes. Fagan said Crestwood is a large employer in the county and should they close as a result of denying the project it would cause severe economic difficulties in the area.
After the resolution was approved, the legislature was met with a mix of “shame” and applause from the crowd. Lausell’s proposed resolution opposing the LPG storage facility was voted down shortly after.
“Shove it right in there and see if people didn’t notice,” Lausell said in regards to the resolution in support of the plan. “That’s what is happening here.”
Fagan said the reason the resolution did not come before the legislature before Wednesday was so the legislature had time to tour the LPG storage facility in Savona before coming to a decision.
Marie Fitzsimmons and several other crowd members questioned Harp’s vote in favor of the resolution after initially voting to table. Harp said he had geopolitical reasons to be self-sufficient rather than turning to the Middle East.
Former legislative candidate Shirley Barton questioned the failure rates for these facilities and asked the legislature if they would feel responsible if a disaster were to occur. She received no response from the legislature.
Seneca County Supervisor Stephen Churchill said he did not hear much discussion from the legislature about the impact on the water. He said Seneca Lake provides clean drinking water to 100,000 people, adding the salt caverns were not designed to hold LPG. Former legislative candidate Michael Burns said the legislature “succeeded in trying to polarize the county.”
Gas Free Seneca co-founders Joseph Campbell and Yvonne Taylor expressed their disappointment with the decision after the meeting. Campbell said Crestwood’s consideration to close down if their plan is denied is an “idle threat,” as it is still a profitable enterprise for Crestwood. He said the resolution is largely a symbolic gesture adding they plan to continue to gather opposition to this project from surrounding towns and counties.
“The decision made by the Schuyler County legislature is merely symbolic because it is still up to the DEC to determine the final issuance of permits for these projects,” Taylor said. “However, what the Schuyler County Legislature did tonight was vote against every constituent and business owner in the county who have loudly opposed this project for the last three years.”
Crestwood also issued a statement after the decision was made.
“The Finger Lakes LPG Storage Facility represents critical infrastructure, not just for New York, but for the Northeast region, and the country as a whole,” president of the New York Propane Gas Association Rick Cummings said. “The dramatic changes in the supply chain and the frigid temperatures this past winter forced Northeastern propane dealers to search as far away as Canada, the Midwest and the Gulf Coast for propane supplies. This storage facility will go a long way towards preventing future propane shortages and price spikes.”