Chief Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James McClymonds of the Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) has issued a long-awaited ruling on the process to be followed for permitting a proposed Liquid Petroleum Gas (“LPG”) storage facility along the shores of Seneca Lake.
In a 75-page document released late Friday, September 8, the ALJ ruled, with one exception, that no evidentiary hearing was required on the issues raised by the groups Gas Free Seneca, Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition (“FLXWBC”), the Seneca Lake Communities, or Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.
The ALJ held the record open on the question whether there were reasonable alternatives to the project, and asked the applicant to confirm whether it owned or had options on salt caverns within 30 miles of Seneca Lake.
Opponents of the project have pressed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s DEC to deny the permit to a subsidiary of Houston-based Crestwood LLC., which seeks to store 88.2 million gallons of LPG in abandoned salt caverns on the Seneca Lake shoreline, garnering opposition from 32 municipalities representing 1.2 million New York residents.
From Rochester to Syracuse, from Geneva to Watkins Glen including 7 counties across the Finger Lakes Region, each community has opposed this bad idea on Seneca Lake.
“We wanted to wait to see what Crestwood had to say about alternate locations for the facility before we responded publicly about the news,” said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Gas Free Seneca. “In the two and a half years that have gone by since the ALJ presided over the Issues Conference, Crestwood has in fact opened a facility in Montgomery, which they have advertised as ‘sufficient to serve the entire northeast in the coldest winter.’ They’ve also received a permit to expand LPG storage in their Savona, facility, making the Seneca Lake project completely unnecessary,” she continued.
“Frankly, we’re thankful that the ALJ has finally issued a ruling,” said President of Gas Free Seneca, Joseph Campbell. “The communities, families, and businesses of the Finger Lakes have fought hard and have waited long enough. Soon the ultimate decision will be in Governor Cuomo’s hands. We trust that, in light of his legacy to promote wine and tourism in the region and reduce the use of climate damaging fossil fuels, he will side with the people of the Finger Lakes, not a Texas gas corporation. Moreover, the integrity of the storage caverns are much more in doubt than the ALJ acknowledged, and the consequences of a breach could be catastrophic for the immediate and broader Seneca Lake communities and population. Any cavern breach or other major failure at the facility would irreparably impair the character of the Seneca Lake communities for years into the future. To top it all off, the safety of the project has not been approved by the State Geologist, as the law requires.”
In response to this threat, the FLXWBC formed in 2014, representing more than 100 leading agriculture and tourism businesses responsible for over $4 billion of economic activity in the area. The Finger Lakes region attracts 4.5 million visitors each year to over 400 historic, natural, and cultural treasures, and area business leaders fear the region faces an existential threat from fracked gas infrastructure buildout on Seneca Lake. The Judge’s decision comes on the heels of a Bi-Partisan effort led by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to designate the Finger Lakes region as a National Heritage Area.
“The Finger Lakes is a national treasure, the only wine region in the world identifiable from space, and it should be preserved and protected, not sacrificed as a convenient dump for LPG,” said FLXWBC Secretary, William Ouweleen. “We trust DEC Commissioner Seggos will deny the permit to avoid the potentially devastating impacts of this ill-conceived project, including its threat to Gov. Cuomo’s economic development efforts.”