Pressure Mounts to Halt Storage Permit Near Seneca Lake

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Feb 042015
By Julie Sherwood
Newly-formed coalition is among those opposed to allowing natural gas and propane storage facilities in former salt mines along Seneca Lake.
  • A march in downtown Geneva Saturday called for a halt to a proposal seeking to permit liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake.   COURTESY OF WE ARE SENECA LAKE TOO FACEBOOK PAGE
A march in downtown Geneva Saturday called for a halt to a proposal seeking to permit liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake. COURTESY OF WE ARE SENECA LAKE TOO FACEBOOK PAGE
As the state moves into what could be the final stage in permitting liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake, those against the plan are stepping up efforts to stop it.

Next week the state Department of Environmental Conservation holds an “issues conference,” which determines if the DEC will pursue further investigation of citizens’ concerns on the proposal’s environment effects.
“This is the endgame,” said Doug Couchon, a key organizer of the “We Are Seneca Lake” group opposed to the plan. Couchon, who lives in Elmira, was a speaker at a rally Saturday in Geneva dubbed We Are Seneca Lake, Too.
Among the 300-plus protesters at the rally, which included speeches at City Hall and a march from Lakefront Park through downtown, was South Bristol resident Edgar Brown. Brown said he was encouraged by the rally and other developments putting pressure on the state to deny the permit.
“Awareness is growing, and there is an increasing feeling of solidarity,” said Brown.
At the issues conference on Feb. 12 in Horseheads, Chemung County, a judge will consider information presented by pre-approved individuals and groups on the environmental effects of the proposal by Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. From there, the judge could call for a full adjudication of the concerns, or could grant Crestwood the permit.
A recent development in the growing efforts to halt the project was the formation of Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and that organization’s Jan. 30 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The coalition — representing wineries, vineyards and wine-related businesses from the Finger Lakes region — also participated in the push to prevent shale gas drilling in New York. Cuomo last year put the kibosh on drilling
“We view this Facility as a direct threat not only to Seneca Lake, but to the strong and growing tourism industry in the Finger Lakes,” stated the letter signed by the dozens of coalition members, including Will Ouweleen of Eagle Crest Vineyards, John Ingle of Heron Hill Winery; and Doug Hazlitt of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. The letter also pointed to data supporting a poor history of similar gas storage facilities in salt caverns nationwide, threatening safety and quality of life.
The Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and other opponents say the permit would bring heavy industry, more truck traffic and unacceptable risk of catastrophic accidents to a region that thrives on tourism.
Brown expressed his feelings in a post for We Are Seneca Lake web page, saying that as the father of young sons, he wants them to “grow up to understand, love, and protect the Finger Lakes” and to model that commitment himself.

Brown added the larger story, however, is about the hundreds of thousands of local citizens who have chosen to create an exceptional quality of life for their families and future generations … in an area of “world class viticulture, cutting-edge organic agriculture, and sustainable ecotourism.”
“That is a beautiful story that corporate officials in ivory towers in Houston, Texas, can never possibly hope to understand,” he wrote. “There is no pocketbook deep enough to challenge and prevail against this kind of fierce, collective commitment.”– See more at:

WRITE ON: Two rallies for one lake

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Jan 232015

WRITE ON: Two rallies for one lake

By MICHAEL FITZGERALD | Posted: Friday, January 23, 2015 5:05 pm

Finger Lakes Times, Geneva, NY


What a difference six months can make.

A regional rally of nearly 500 people marched through Watkins Glen last July to protest a narrowly approved Schuyler County Legislature resolution supporting liquid propane gas storage in unlined salt caverns on the west shore of Seneca Lake.

That county resolution urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve a proposal to store 88 million gallons of LPG in caverns three miles north of Watkins Glen.

Next Saturday, Jan. 31, Geneva will be the site of another regional rally. But this one is to make it clear the future of the lake is not solely in the hands of misguided Schuyler County elected officials.

The rally has also been organized to demonstrate the rapidly growing regional — and nearly unanimous — Finger Lakes solidarity against the project.

The Geneva rally will begin at Waterfront Park followed by a march through downtown (with a visit to GOP Congressman Tom Reed’s office) before ending up at Geneva City Hall.

Speakers include Seneca County’s Steve Churchill, environmental activist Sandra Steingraber, Geneva City Councilman Ken Camera and Doug Couchon, one of the key organizers of the “We Are Seneca Lake” group.

We Are Seneca Lake has been grabbing state and national headlines since October for its blockade and arrests at the Town of Reading site where Crestwood of Houston has federal approval to store natural gas and is seeking permits to add LPG — under high pressure — to its underground inventory.

Two hundred people had been arrested for trespassing as of Monday. Arrests continue almost daily.

The Geneva rally, dubbed “We Are Seneca Lake, Too,” is part of the run-up to the Feb. 12 state Department of Environmental Conservation issues conference in Horseheads.

James T. McClymonds, chief administrative law judge for the DEC, will be taking testimony from proponents and opponents.

If McClymonds believes the issues and evidence opposing a state permit for the LPG storage are weighty enough, he is expected to recommend a court hearing at a later date.

It’s like a playoff game. Everything is on the line for opponents who need to convince McClymonds to give them a day in court. The same for Crestwood, which wants the permits issued to start LPG storage in the caverns right away.

Among other issues, the danger posed to lake water quality is expected to be a key matter on the table. Seneca Lake currently provides water to more than 100,000 people.

While both sides have prepared their evidence and lined up a slew of experts to testify, the Schuyler County Legislature — the same legislature that voted to support the LPG storage in July — decided against becoming involved in the conference, instead opting to let gas industry lobbyists make their case for approval.

But in a surprise move, Schuyler legislators Michael Lausell, a Democrat, and Van Harp, a Republican, broke ranks with their colleagues and filed with the DEC to be allowed to offer evidence and testimony outlining concerns about sketchy safety protocols in the county to handle any propane storage related emergency.

Their action constitutes a political earthquake and directly challenges Dennis Fagan, just reelected legislative chair and an ardent booster of LPG storage. His support comes despite citizens’ demands he recuse himself from all gas matters because of a perceived conflict of interest. Fagan is up for reelection in November to keep his legislative seat.

The political case has been tightly stitched against the LPG storage with each rally, the regional alliance, official government-backed resolutions, arrests and overwhelming public opposition.

If the scientific case presented Feb. 12 is as strong, perhaps the next regional rallies will be celebrations of making it through this playoff.

Fitzgerald worked for six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for several news services. He lives in Valois and Watkins Glen with his wife. They are owner/operators of a publishing enterprise called *subject2change Media. His “Write On” column appears Fridays. He can be contacted at