The Finger Lakes are a premier location of two industries integral to economic growth in New York state: tourism and winemaking.
In many ways they are intertwined, with wineries driving tourism, similar to Napa Valley in California attracting visitors.
But a major problem is looming in the area. Crestwood-Midstream, a Texas-based oil and gas corporation, is threatening these thriving industries with its proposals to locate and expand gas storage along Seneca Lake, the largest fresh water body in New York and over half of the water in the Finger Lakes.
The Cuomo administration must recognize the scope of this threat to our state from this company, which was responsible for the largest oil field spills in North Dakota’s history just last month, involving 1 million gallons of hazardous brine.
More than a top tourism destination for our state, the Finger Lakes area was included among the top 10 Lake Vacations in the world last year.
Cuomo credited the state’s growing tourism industry with producing $7.5 billion in local and state taxes and nearly $60 billion in direct spending within the state. It is also responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in New York, and our state saw over 200 million visitors in 2013.
The wine industry is also flourishing, and accounts for a portion of tourism growth. A recent report shows the wine industry contributes $4.8 billion to the New York economy every year, supports the equivalent of 25,000 full-time jobs, and pays over $408 million in taxes. The Finger Lakes region, in particular, has gained increasing prominence as home to world-class wines and is now considered the Napa of the Northeast, with acclaimed national and international recognition. The Cuomo administration has fittingly highlighted the industry’s success at the Governor’s Cup Wine Competition in the area, where a wine from Seneca Lake took home the honors for best wine in the state.
Crestwood-Midstream proposals would endanger the industries by irreversibly industrializing the Finger Lakes, bringing more than 70,000 additional trucks to the roads, and heightening the risk of catastrophic fires and explosions of the dangerous liquid gas, in addition to posing health complications for residents that were cited by Schuyler County Health Care Professionals.
These facilities within salt caverns, like the one proposed, are among the most dangerous.
Crestwood-Midstream has shown a callous disregard for local businesses and economy, and the serious concerns raised about their proposals. Rather than address legitimate concerns, A Crestwood executive sent an email to colleagues in June 2013 pushing for withholding local propane deliveries to the more than 200 local business owners who expressed opposition.
While local businesses employ hundreds of residents of the Finger Lakes and fill the region’s tax coffers, Crestwood wouldn’t pay any county sales taxes and has promised roughly eight to 10 jobs. Its lawyers already sued to lower its property tax assessment by $7 million, and they would no doubt seek additional reductions in the future, lessening their tax payments even further.
As the sixth generation in my family to produce wines in the Finger Lakes, I am proud of how much the region contributes to the state economy.
New York has everything to lose by permitting this project.
Cuomo must protect one of New York’s most vital natural resources and the growing industries of our state by rejecting the proposals. That would be consistent with his laudable efforts to support the wine and tourism industries’ ability to help spur investment, improve local economies and provide sustainable jobs for New Yorkers.
Hazlitt is the owner of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a Finger Lakes winery started in 1984 as an addition to the seven-generation family farm that produces more than 500,000 gallons of wine per year.