The state Department of Environmental Conservation has scheduled a proceeding before a judge that could finally decide whether Crestwood’s controversial LPG storage facility on Seneca Lake will be permitted.

The DEC announced Wednesday that an issues conference will be held Feb. 12 at the Holiday Inn Express in Horseheads before an administrative law judge.

The issues conference will determine if there are “significant and substantive” issues that require an adjudicatory hearing. If so, the judge would hold the hearing at a later date.

The Feb. 12 issues conference will also determine “party status” for any individuals or organizations who believe they are directly impacted by Crestwood’s project - in other words, if they will be eligible to testify at the hearing. Those seeking party status must apply to the DEC by Dec. 10.

Joseph Campbell, founder of Gas Free Seneca - a group of Schuyler County residents and winery owners that opposes the LPG facility - said the group will be represented by its attorney, Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice.

The issues conference and possible adjudicatory hearing will be held before James McClymonds, chief administrative law judge for the DEC’s Office of Hearings and Mediation Services.

At the end of the process, Judge McClymonds will prepare a formal report for DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, who has the final say.

The process is typically reserved for large-scale and controversial projects like the LPG facility, said DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes. He said it is more evidence-based than the public hearings the DEC held in 2009, which were open to all.

The DEC has been reviewing the plans since 2009.

Crestwood has applied for permission to store up to 88.2 million gallons of liquefied petroleum gas - propane and butane - in the salt caverns deep beneath the U.S. Salt plant near Watkins Glen, which Crestwood owns.

Above ground, the complex would include rail and truck terminals, a 2.25-acre brine pond and a 6.35-acre brine pond, compressors, storage tanks, offices and other facilities.

The fuel would be shipped by TEPPCO pipeline, Norfolk Southern rail lines, and trucks on State Routes 14 and 14A.

The protesters say Crestwood plans to make the lower west side of Seneca Lake into a major gas hub. They fear catastrophic accidents and water pollution, and say the operation doesn’t fit with the area’s wine and tourism industry.

Crestwood says the facility will be safely engineered and will ensure adequate propane supplies in the region, and keep prices stable.

Also Wednesday, 10 protesters were arrested for blocking the gates of Crestwood’s property, according to Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman. They were charged with trespassing after blocking a truck from making a delivery, Yessman said.

A Crestwood spokesman issued the following statement on Wednesday’s arrests:

“We have respected the protestors’ rights to oppose our growth projects, but our employees and contractors depend on having access to our existing operations at the US Salt complex. Unfortunately, we were required to involve law enforcement this morning after the protests began to raise safety concerns and interfere with the operations of our century-old US Salt plant.”

The activists were also protesting a separate Crestwood project, an expansion of the capacity of its existing natural gas storage in other salt caverns nearby. That project has already been cleared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but construction hasn’t started yet.