Opposition awaits decision on Seneca Lake gas storage plan

Seneca_lake_GenevaA coalition of Finger Lakes residents, legislators, environmental activists, health care professionals, winery employees and other business owners are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject a plan to build a gas storage facility along Seneca Lake.

Crestwood Midstream is a Texas-based natural gas distribution and storage company that is seeking to turn a depleted salt mine along Seneca Lake, two miles north of Watkins Glen, into a major methane, propane, and butane storage and transport hub for the Northeastern United States.

Speakers met in Albany for the one-year anniversary of a DEC “issues conference” regarding LPG storage in Seneca Lake.

Those who spoke at the press conference last week expressed several concerns regarding the proposed project. They argue that storing large quantities of gas is not only incompatible with the existing wine and tourism industries, for which Cuomo has shown increased support, but that it is scientifically irresponsible to store gas along a drinking water source for 100,000 people.

“This is a direct threat to generations of what our family has built,” said Tina Hazlitt, a board member of the Finger Lakes Wine Association, and one of the owners of Hazlitt Vineyards, a family-owned vineyard that has been operating for more than 160 years.

Currently 31 municipalities, including Syracuse, Rochester, Watkins Glen, Geneva and others, have voiced their concerns with Crestwood’s proposed project. The opposition says there are 400 businesses also opposed to the Crestwood plan. The executive committee of 1199 SEIU-United Healthcare Workers East, one the largest health care unions in the nation, unanimously passed a resolution against the Crestwood project.

Speakers in Albany brought up the recent, high-profile water crises in Flint, Michigan and Porter Ranch, California, and said that if this project goes through, New Yorkers can expect to see a similar catastrophe in the Finger Lakes.

A spokesman from Crestwood returned a phone call about this story, but did not comment on the record.

“The proposed project is a bad idea. For a state that banned fracking, it makes no sense,” said Todd Hobler, vice president of 1199 SEIU.

Gas Free Seneca, one of the groups represented at the press conference, was established in 2011, in response Crestwood’s LPG storage plan. Joseph Campbell, and other members of the organization say that since then, they have been waiting for an answer as to whether or not a permit will be issued to Crestwood.  They also say that DEC Chief Administrative Law Judge James T. McClymonds was supposed to announce his decision by July 2015. Opponents of the plan believe the decision is ultimately up to Gov. Cuomo and DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos.

While Crestwood has said their project would create jobs in the region, opponents say the number of local jobs that could be lost, should there be a catastrophe, would far outnumber those created at the storage and transport hub. The wine and tourism industry in the region currently employs about 58,000 people, and speakers say that Crestwood would only create about 17 permanent jobs.

“We must keep our lake pure and protect it from short-term interests,” said Rick Rainey, co-founder of Forge Cellars in Seneca Lake, a company that distributes wine to 20 U.S. states and four countries.

Health care professionals at the press conference brought attention to potential health risks that this project could have on Finger Lakes residents.  They said this would cause an increase in ozone, and an increase in pollutants, which can result in asthma, lung disease, and premature births.

“Citizens cannot bear the burden of corporate tyranny,” said Paula Fitzsimmons, a physician’s assistant and activist who has been vocal in her opposition to the project.