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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Still waiting: No word yet on Seneca LPG, natural gas projects

  • The review of Crestwood's proposed LPG storage and distribution hub on Seneca Lake is now heading into its fifth year.
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  • WATKINS GLEN | The review of Crestwood's proposed LPG storage and distribution hub on Seneca Lake is now heading into its fifth year, and both the newly renamed Kansas City-based company and a group of locals fighting the project are still awaiting a decision by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.
    "There is nothing new to report. It is still under review," replied DEC Region 8 spokeswoman Linda Vera on Wednesday to an email from The Leader asking for a status update.
    Also still pending is a review of Crestwood's proposed expansion of its nearby natural gas storage facility. That's a separate project under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
    Crestwood was formerly known as Inergy.
    Both projects involve storing fuel in the salt caverns beneath the U.S. Salt plant on the west side of Seneca Lake just north of Watkins Glen. Crestwood bought the salt plant in 2008.
    The first permits were filed for the LPG facility, which would store propane and butane, in 2009. It also involves transfer facilities for trains and trucks used to transport the LPG.
    Crestwood then bought the natural gas storage facility from NYSEG and applied to expand its capacity.
    Opponents fear the risk of fires, explosions, spills and leaks at the site, as well as accidents involving railroad tankers or trucks carrying the product. They fear air pollution and contamination of Seneca Lake. They say the industrial activity will hurt Seneca's thriving wine and tourism industry.
    Crestwood, however, insists the facility will ensure ample supplies of propane to the region and keep prices stable. They say it will bring jobs and tax revenues.
    The company also says all aspects of the complex will be safely engineered. The company also notes there's a long history of LPG and natural gas being stored in the salt caverns.
    Over the past few years, there's been rallies, marches, protests and contentious public hearings, but still no final answer from the regulatory agencies.
    Opponents held a press conference Wednesday at the Watkins Glen Public Library.
    At the presser, activist Jeremy Alderson claimed a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Law to the Schuyler County Office of Emergency Management, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control returned no documentation that any specific preparations were being made for emergencies related to the projects.
    Alderson - one of the activists arrested last year during a protest at the gates of Inergy's property - pointed to a handful of past catastrophes such as explosions, fires and collapses at similar salt cavern storage facilities in the U.S.
    "Things do go wrong at these types of facilities," Alderson said. "The question is, if something does go wrong here, is the county prepared?"
    Page 2 of 2 - Certainly, O'Hearn said.
    He said the county and the various first responders in the Watkins Glen area were properly trained, equipped and prepared to deal with a wide array of situations.
    "Suffice it to say, the county takes very seriously public safety and the safety of its residents," said O'Hearn said. "The fact that there's a local emergency planning commission that's active and engaged speaks to that, and we have a very strong network of emergency responders who are well-trained and well-prepared.
    "I take exception if the implication is that we're not taking public safety seriously," O'Hearn added. "I would strongly disagree."
    Crestwood released the following statement Wednesday:
    "We cannot emphasize enough that safety is our number one priority. Our development projects and expansions are designed to achieve the highest levels of safety and regulatory compliance, and our plans and procedures are devised to safeguard human health and the environment. Our employees are also prepared to respond promptly to all types of unplanned events."
    Also speaking at Wednesday's press conference was Joseph Campbell, co-founder of Gas Free Seneca, a coalition of local businesses and residents that's been fighting Inergy's plans over the past several years.
    Gas Free Seneca has hired Earthjustice - a national, non-profit public interest environmental law firm - to assist them. Campbell said Earthjustice's attorneys are preparing a lawsuit should the DEC approve the LPG facility, but he had no idea when a decision might come.
    Campbell did say he'd heard through the attorneys that an approval from FERC on the natural gas storage facility could come within a month or so.

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