Otsego Chamber Policy Declares Independence Regarding Energy Issues

Otsego Chamber Policy

Declares Independence

Regarding Energy Issues

Renewables Supported,

But Decompressor, Too

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Barbara Ann Heegan addresses chamber Energy Summit in January. (AllOTSEGO.com photo)

COOPERSTOWN – Otsego County businesspeople support all energy options – renewables, yes, but also the controversial decompressor station proposed for West Oneonta – states a county Chamber of Commerce “Energy & Infrastructure Policy” released in the past few days.

The statement came bottom-up from the Oneonta-based organization’s countywide membership, said Chamber President Barbara Ann Heegan, who also chairs the Economic Development Committee of the county board’s Energy Task Force.  “They (chamber members) collectively shared that they want their voices heard,” Heegan added.

With businesspeople worried their perspectives would not be reflected in the Energy Task Force’s conclusions, Heegan said work began on the statement soon after county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision, announced the Energy Task Force membership at the chamber’s Energy Summit in January at The Otesaga.

The policy grew out of the 24-member chamber board “listening to our members,” Heegan said.

The nine-member steering committee, chaired by Al Rubin, A&D Transport Services president, then assembled the final document from inputs.  Other steering committee members include BOCES Superintendent Nick Savin, Rubin’s predecessor, realtor Barbara Fox, and Deb Marcus, CEO of Family Planning South Central New York.

Rubin failed to return several telephone requests for comment seeking details on how the steering committee crafted the policy.

“It gives guidance on our focus,” said Heegan. “It’s all positive.  Everyone has shared.  At least they (the Energy Task Force) knows where the chamber stands on the issue.  If we have no policy, they don’t know where we stand.”

Chamber members wanted the policy to reach the county Board of Representatives’ leadership, she said, and that the document will be delivered personally to board Chair David Bliss, D-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield. By Tuesday, June 18, that had not happened, Bliss said.

In an interview, Meg Kennedy, the county Task Force chair, said she understands where Heegan is coming from: “She is painting a picture of a reality that does exist: People in the county that want to have a decompressor station.”

With the chamber policy preempting the Energy Task Force’s deliberations – a countywide policy is not expected until the end of 2020 – Heegan acknowledged she is in an awkward position as both chamber president and Economic Development Committee chair.

But Kennedy said, “Her committee, her group, elected her to be chair.  I think it would be shortsighted to disqualify her from that position of leadership, especially when we are well aware there are equally committed proponents of looking no further than renewables.”

For her part, Nicole Dillingham, president of Otsego 2000, the Cooperstown-based environmental group, said: “Let me just express my disappointment.  (The policy) reads like a happy-go-lucky walk through the tulips, completely divorced from reality.”

Much of the policy supports renewables, she said, “and then, the kicker: ‘Oh, yes, we also need more natural gas’.”

“If we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in pipelines and decompression stations, supplied by bomb trucks, … how does that allow the resources to be available to switch to renewables?” asked Dillingham.

She was on her way Tuesday evening, June 18, to Oneonta’s Common Council meeting, to object to the city’s adoption of a GEIS (a general environmental impact statement), a step in the redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards.

The full Energy & Infrastructure Policy is printed in this edition, beginning on Page A4.

To encapsulate, it calls renewables “inevitable,” and vows to help pursue “all forms of energy” – wind, solar, natural gas, hydro, geothermal and ground- and air-source heat pumps.

But it also says, “Options such as the proposed decompressor station will help on a temporary basis,” and “more natural gas capacity is clearly needed if our community and local employers are to grow and prosper.”

In setting the stage, it points out the Census Bureau reports 2,528 people have left the county since 2010, or 4.1 percent of the population.  In neighboring counties, those rates have reached 7.1 percent.

Kennedy said the task force, which next meets as a group at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, is proceeding on a structure course.  The next step is to issue an RFP (request for proposals) for a facilitators to help members with different perspectives reach a common ground.

“The county task force will continue moving forward with a systematic approach,” said county Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Morris, Kennedy’s co-chair.  “We still have a lot to learn and understand about the issue.”

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