Hundreds attend DEC gas storage hearing

Derrick Ek

Emotions ran high as approximately 700 people gathered for last week’s DEC public hearing on the proposed Seneca LPG storage facility.

Protesters from Gas Free Seneca, a group opposing the project, rallied outside Watkins Glen High School, where the hearing was held.

Bill Moller, president of Kansas City-based Inergy Midstream, the company proposing the project, was surrounded by project opponents and peppered with questions during an informational session before the hearing began.

“I don’t know when home heating became the enemy of this community,” he told them. “We’re providing a cheaper, reliable, cleaner-burning source of energy. That’s what we’re doing here.”

No area elected officials signed up to speak.

He made a few points about why Inergy was proposing to use empty salt caverns beneath the U.S. Salt plant, which it owns, to store 2.1 million barrels of LPG. The $40 million project also involves a rail/truck facility to transfer LPG; storage tanks, compressors and related infrastructure; as well as a 14-acre brine pond.

Moller said there’s a high demand for propane in the region. The storage facility would lower prices and ensure adequate supplies, he said. Many of the fears, such as overwhelming truck traffic and the brine pond leaking, were baseless, he added.

The next speaker to take the stand, David Crea of Watkins Glen, is an engineer at the U.S. Salt plant and lives on Salt Point Road, near the site.

He said he lives and works near the site of the proposed LPG facility, and wasn’t worried at all about the risks of environmental damage or catastrophic accidents. He said he was a member of the “silent majority” of local residents who supported Inergy’s plans, but was booed and shouted down.

Dr. Adam Law, of Ithaca, is a member of a group called Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

Law claimed there was an “alarmingly high frequency of incidents” at similar underground storage facilities across the country.

Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars on the east side of Seneca Lake, said Inergy’s project had a huge environmental footprint and the increased industrial activity would “slowly choke out tourism.”

Approximately 80 people signed up to speak during the three-hour hearing. The DEC will accept written comments through Oct. 10.

The key documents in its review, the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and the underground storage permit application, are posted on its website.

The DEC will consider all the public comments and respond to them, according to DEC spokeswoman Linda Vera.

After that, the DEC will make a decision on approving or denying the project, and must support its findings in issuing a decision, Vera said.

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f the project is approved, it’s likely to be challenged in court, as Gas Free Seneca has hired environmental lawyer Richard Lippes of Buffalo.

Inergy also acquired NYSEG’s natural gas storage in nearby salt caverns, and states on its website that both the LPG and gas storage capacities could be expanded in the future. However, Moller said there are no immediate plans to do so.