Advocates are demanding that state officials pick up where federal regulators have left off and scrutinize the combined environmental and community impacts of a pair of gas storage projects proposed for underground salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake, in the Finger Lakes region of Western New York.
The demand was outlined in a letter sent yesterday to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) by the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice on behalf of Gas Free Seneca, which is fighting to protect the region from the controversial projects.
Local residents, business owners and elected officials are concerned that the projects will jeopardize public health and safety and threaten Seneca Lake and along with it, the growing local tourism economy.
“Seneca Lake is a drinking water source for 100,000 people and is the foundation of our local economy and way of life,” said Gas Free Seneca co-founder Dr. Joseph Campbell. “The DEC’s process so far has been piecemeal and incomplete. They need to look at the big picture. Too much is at stake.”
Both projects are proposed by subsidiaries of Kansas City-based Inergy Midstream. One proposal would involve the storage of 88 million gallons of liquid petroleum gas (“LPG”). The second is for additional natural gas storage, expanding capacity at the site to 2 billion cubic feet. Both proposals are awaiting approval by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Only one, the natural gas storage project, requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Earlier this week, FERC asked for additional information about the cumulative impacts of the natural gas facility, including an inventory of all projects within a 5-mile radius and an assessment of their combined impacts on the environment.
In its letter, Gas Free Seneca is calling on the DEC to build on FERC’s request by preparing a full examination of the projects’ cumulative impacts, including on traffic, noise, air quality, and community character.
“To date, no such assessment has been conducted,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “DEC cannot possibly make an informed decision about these large-scale projects without understanding their cumulative effects, and the agency’s decision will not be lawful, unless those impacts are first disclosed to the public.”
Public outcry over the projects is growing and the issue is receiving national attention. In March, a coalition of 40 groups and local businesses along with nearly 10,000 people submitted public comments to FERC, outlining their serious concerns about expanding natural gas storage. A group of 12 citizens blocked access to the facility in protest and were arrested. In April, three opted to serve time in jail, attracting national media attention. Last week, dozens of residents of the Town of Reading—whose Planning Board is considering whether to issue a special use permit for LPG storage—gathered to discuss their concerns about the project.
The LPG project has also raised concerns among elected officials. In March, in a near-unanimous bipartisan vote, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution joining State Senator Michael Nozzolio in asking DEC to withhold approval of the facility.
“Our community’s struggle is being discussed everywhere from our local restaurants and schools to national television studios,” said Gas Free Seneca Co-Founder Yvonne Taylor. “Are DEC officials paying attention? If not, they should be.”
Since forming in early 2011, Gas Free Seneca has built an organization of more than 140 business coalition members opposed to this facility and collected more than 5,000 petition signatures of local residents, business owners and visitors.