Potential Crestwood Storage Site

An aerial view of the Crestwood salt facility located on Seneca Lake's westshore, just north of Watkins Glen.

After several years and numerous appeals to New York State, local environmentalists celebrated a major victory on Thursday after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected a Crestwood/Midstream proposal for a natural gas storage facility in the salt caverns beneath Seneca Lake.

Citing the “compelling arguments” presented by several environmental groups around the integrity of the salt caverns beneath the lake, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos called for “additional record development on the cavern integrity”  as well as a need for additional pressure testing but, in additional statements, cited the potential for serious detrimental impacts on both the environmental and economic character of the region, that the project “does not avoid or minimize those impacts to the maximum extent practicable.”

“My decision, together with the draft supplemental environmental impact statement (DSEIS) and the comprehensive record, hereby serves to finalize the DSEIS for this action,” writes Seggos. “Based upon my review, I am not able to issue a findings statement in support of this project and, accordingly, the permit applications for this proposed project are to be denied.”

“The Commissioner determined that the record supported denying the project at this stage of the administrative process and noted four issues that raised significant concerns that would have otherwise required further adjudication — the proposed facility brine pond, integrity of caverns at the site, public safety preparedness, and availability of alternative sites, including the proposed volume of storage capacity, as well as the need for the facility,” the DEC wrote in a press statement announcing the decision. “No further proceedings are required with the denial of this project based on community character.”  

The nearly 30-page decision by the DEC can be read here.

Since Gas Free Seneca first formed in 2011, numerous appeals have been submitted by activist groups such as Gas Free Seneca, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association and Seneca Lake Communities, who were joined in the various proceedings over the years by the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition; Schuyler County Legislators Van A. Harp and Michael L. Lausell (a candidate for State Legislature), the National Propane Gas Association, the New York L.P. Gas Association, Inc., the Propane Gas Association of New England and the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, who were listed as full parties within the proceedings.

Legal assistance was provided pro bono from EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

The most recent appeal, brought forward by Gas Free Seneca in May, brought forth concerns about cavern integrity and that, “at the very least,” the cavern’s developers should be required to disclose all studies of the wells at the site that have been conducted in the past five years.

“Only by submitting all of this information for independent third-party review (and potential examination at an adjudicatory hearing), can [DEC] provide the residents of the Finger Lakes with any confidence that their concerns about cavern integrity are receiving serious, unbiased evaluation,” they wrote.  

Once supported by the likes of Schuyler County, who at one point expressed support for the plan, the efforts of activist groups in the region have had a pronounced impact on public opinion. Earlier this week, the Schuyler County Legislature passed a resolution rescinding its support of the natural gas storage proposal and since concerns were first raised around the proposal, 32 public entities have come out against the proposal, as well as hundreds of local businesses and community members. This latest step, organizers say, presents a “likely insurmountable hurdle for proponents,” of the storage facility. Their only option at this point is an Article 78 lawsuit but, as Gas Free Seneca’s Joseph Campbell said, “nobody beats the DEC.”

“They’re welcome to try,” he added, “But chances are pretty good they’re not going to win.”

Campbell, reached by phone on Thursday, cited the numerous experts from different disciplines, including a hydrologist, geologist, community character expert and even a noise expert as the drivers of their victory, one he says sends a message to the “predatory corporations that come into the Finger Lakes with these outlandish projects.” He added that similar projects, including a proposed incinerator scouted for the Seneca Army Depot in Ovid, was one of a similar nature. (That proposal, now the target of bills in both houses of the State Legislature, will have its fate known at the speed of Albany, which is currently in the throes of a legislative backlog.)

Until the next battle, Campbell said he’s content to relax, and will do so with a glass of champagne from local vineyard, Damiani.

 Follow Nick Reynolds on Twitter @Nickthaca

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