Crestwood opponents will risk arrest to protest

Derrick Ek
Activist Sandra Steingraber speaks at a protest and press conference Monday at the Crestwood natural gas storage facility near Watkins Glen.

During a protest and press conference Monday, Aug. 18, opponents of Crestwood’s fuel storage facilities on Seneca Lake threatened civil disobedience and indicated they are willing to risk arrests to hinder the projects.

“We are feeling like we are backed into a corner and we are running out of options. Ignoring our plea for help will leave us with no alternative but to take matters into our own hands,” said Yvonne Taylor, co-founder of Gas Free Seneca, a group of winery owners and area residents fighting the project.

Taylor spoke to a few hundred protesters gathered outside Crestwood’s methane storage facility along State Route 414 just north of Watkins Glen, where a dozen people were arrested for trespassing last year for blocking the gates.

A series of speakers Monday called on President Barack Obama, Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to halt two underground fuel storage and distribution projects planned by Houston-based Crestwood, again voicing concerns about environmental impacts, risks of catastrophic accidents, and industrial activity hurting winery and tourism.

Activist Sandra Steingraber said opponents will be circulating a online pledge of resistance.

“It asks you to consider taking a solemn commitment to not only pursue all possible avenues, turn over all possible stones, write all possible letters, make all possible phone calls, but if necessary, to use your bodies and your voices in the American tradition of civil disobedience,” Steingraber told the crowd. In the background, a protester carried a sign warning of “massive disobedience.”

The protest caused a traffic hazard, with cars parked alongside both sides of Route 14 and people crossing the busy four-lane road, which is divided by a median. A state trooper and Schuyler County sheriff’s deputy pulled in with lights flashing as the event was ending but didn’t stay long.

The protesters are fighting two projects by Crestwood subsidiaries, both of which involve using the salt caverns along Seneca to store gas.

One is an expansion of the methane storage facility where Monday’s rally was held, which has existed for decades and was previously owned by NYSEG. It has received preliminary approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (ferc) but is still awaiting a final clearance from FERC, Crestwood says.“FERC recently authorized a small expansion of our Seneca Lake natural gas storage facility,” the company said in a statement Monday. “The FERC order authorizing the expansion requires us to file an implementation plan for the environmental and engineering conditions contained in the order. We filed our implementation plan last week, and we cannot commence construction until the FERC approves our plan.”

The other project is a new facility to store and distribute LPG — or propane and butane — in the caverns beneath the U.S. Salt plant, which Crestwood owns. The LPG facility has been under review by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for roughly five years.

The DEC, which held public hearings in 2011, recently announced that it would hold an issues conference, during which an administrative law judge will hear testimony only from experts and parties deemed to be directly affected. If significant issues are raised, another hearing would be held before a judge, who would make a recommendation to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens on whether to grant approval.

The process is typically reserved for large-scale or controversial projects, DEC officials say.

Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who visited Seneca Lake last week, told The Leader that Cuomo had ordered the issues conference, and that it would be scheduled in the Watkins Glen area.

“If there are violations, if there are dangers or issues, the governor has said to the commissioner there will be no permits issued,” said Duffy, who is from Rochester and has a summer home on Keuka Lake.

“Nothing is being done until it is vetted through that process, and I have confidence that the governor and Commissioner Martens, in the end, will have a better sense of whether or not this should go forward,” Duffy added.

Joseph Campbell of Gas Free Seneca said the group would be represented at the issues conference by its attorney, Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm.

Crestwood says its Seneca Lake projects will help ensure adequate fuel supplies and stable prices in the Northeast, and will contribute significantly to the tax base in Schuyler County. The Schuyler County Legislature recently passed a resolution of support.