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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Court ruling clears way for Painted Post water sales to resume

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  • PAINTED POST | An appeals court has overturned the ruling that halted the Village of Painted Post’s bulk water sales operation.
    The written decision was issued by the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department, located in Rochester.
    The decision clears the way for Painted Post to resume selling water to SWEPI LP, a Shell subsidiary, for shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The water is drawn from village wells at a loading station built in 2012 at the old foundry site, loaded onto tankers and shipped on the Wellsboro and Corning Railroad.
    Under a five-year water sale agreement, Painted Post can sell up to one million gallons of water per day. The deal guarantees the village $3.2 million, and could be worth around $4 million annually if the maximum is sold.
    A lawsuit was filed in June 2012 by environmental groups Sierra Club, People for a Healthy Environment and the Coalition to Protect New York, along with five local residents. They were concerned about the impact of large-scale water withdrawals on the Corning aquifer, and of trains running through the village.
    A state Supreme Court judge ruled in March 2013 that the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was not complied with during the project’s review, and voided both the water sale agreement and the lease deal for the property upon which the water loading station was built.
    The village and Shell then appealed in May 2013. Oral arguments were heard in February 2014, and the decision was issued Friday.
    The original contracts are now valid again, and water sales can resume, said Painted Post Mayor Roz Crozier.
    “I’m not surprised,” Crozier said. “We did our homework before we started this project. We did due diligence. So the result is exactly what I expected.”
    “We believe the court applied the law correctly and reached the right outcome by dismissing the claims,” said Shell spokeswoman Deborah Sawyer via email.
    “The sale of such water provides the Village revenue which will help to stabilize taxes and can be used for other Village needs,” added Joseph Picciotti, an attorney for Rochester-based Harris Beach Law Firm, which represented the village and Shell. “This is a good decision for every Village taxpayer.”
    Hammondsport attorney Rachel Treichler, who represented the environmental groups and local residents who filed the lawsuit, said they lost the appeal because a judge ruled that one of the plaintiffs lacked legal standing.
    Treichler said she was disappointed the judges did not rule on the big picture - the long-term effect of bulk water sales on the Corning aquifer.
    “My concern is that the municipalities seem to think there’s an unlimited amount of water,” she said. “What we asked for in this case was an environmental review to look at the needs of the other users. There’s not just one village. There are eight municipalitlies that take water from the Corning aquifer and a number of private users and businesses.”
    Page 2 of 2 - She said her clients may try to appeal Friday’s ruling to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. However, the Court of Appeals is very selective with the cases it hears.

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