WATKINS GLEN, NY – It’s been almost two years since protests at the site of a proposed gas storage facility on Seneca Lake began. Crestwood, the company behind the project, finally made some concessions — but opponents of the project are far from satisfied.

In addition to the environmentalists, Crestwood has faced pushback from some elected officials and civic leaders, local wineries and other business leaders, and homeowners on the lake.

In a letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday, Crestwood offered four alterations to the project, saying the changes “will reduce the scale and environmental impacts (potential, actual, and perceived) of the Project, respond meaningfully to the concerns expressed… by stakeholders and will result in further avoidance or mitigation of the impacts.”

  • Elimination of rail and truck components, which they say will address concerns about the safety in transporting gas, increased traffic and road damage, and noise and air pollution.
  • Elimination of butane storage, and reduction of propane storage by approximately 30 percent. The letter notes that propane has been stored in the Seneca Lake area for 60 years.
  • Elimination of a proposed brine pond, which they say will address concerns that a breach or overflow of such a pond would spill into the lake and affect water quality (Seneca Lake is a source of drinking water for thousands of people).
  • Providing resources to support community initiatives on water quality. Crestwood says they will provide funding and technical data to community groups to help address water quality threats.
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Opponents unimpressed

Two groups who have been heavily involved in the fight against Crestwood released statements decrying the changes and insufficient and misplaced.

Gas Free Seneca called the changes an “effective admission” that concerns about the safety and overall impact on the region were justified. They also stated that those changes are not yet officially enforceable, and even if they were, they don’t address the real problems — namely concerns of storage cavern integrity and increased salinity levels in the lake.

“What we have is a project with less benefit to the community in terms of property tax revenue (Crestwood will likely sue to have its property assessment reduced again, since there will be less above ground infrastructure) and less jobs (no rail or truck depot mean the creation of one or two jobs, and very few construction jobs), but with the risks of fire, explosion, contamination of the lake, and added greenhouse gases in the midst of a global climate crisis still remaining,” Gas Free Seneca said in a statement.

We Are Seneca Lake had similar sentiments, noting that butane storage was a minor element of the project and it’s removal means little and that Crestwood has not address concerns over methane storage at all.

“These reductions are not enough,” explained Lindsay Speer, of We Are Seneca Lake. “It’s like a smoker promising to cut back from three packs to two packs a day with a promise not to smoke in bed: it still puts the kids in the house at risk for asthma and house fires. Underground gas storage in any quantity is inherently unsafe. We do not want an Aliso Canyon at Seneca Lake.”

Both groups stated they would continue fighting the project.

Schuyler County in support

Also on Monday, the Schuyler County legislature passed a resolution in support of the project 6-2, despite the opposition.

“Any petition against this project that’s been brought to the DEC has been refuted. There has been no scientific basis to oppose the project,” said Crestwood’s Bill Gautreaux, according to a report from MyTwinTiers.com.

Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan agreed, adding: “If you read those reports you wouldn’t have any questions in your mind as to the safety of this project.”

Both environmental groups have questioned Fagan’s impartiality on the issue, citing his position as founder Fagan Engineering, “a company with extensive involvement in the oil and gas industry and pipelines.”

Schuyler County’s support of the project is not an approval — Crestwood is ultimately waiting on the DEC to make a final approval, and the DEC is under no particular deadline to make a decision.

(Featured photo courtesy of We Are Seneca Lake)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.