NAYSAYERS NEED TO BE AYE-SAYERS
As any one of you who have been there know, Owego’s a delightful community, rich with history – Belva Lockwood, the first woman presidential candidate, taught there. Fine mansions line the Susquehanna River. There’s a funky, arts-oriented downtown.
A half-block off Main and Front streets, however, you see the rot. Solid homes are in disarray; when the money’s not there, maintenance is the first thing to go. There was one particularly well-maintained home for sale, but it listed for $125,000. It would have demanded twice that in Otsego County.
Owego was a particular showcase in the day, not so long ago, when every community in Upstate New York was a showcase. Remember delightful Little Falls, fine homes built around a series of park-like squares. Or today’s woeful Amsterdam, which used to be the prosperous center of the nation’s carpet-making industry.
Otsego County’s community centers are challenged, too. Happily, Oneonta’s DRI is taking hold, with the exciting Lofts on Dietz, 66 artist studios and apartments, due for groundbreaking next summer. Cooperstown, destination of a half-million tourists a year, is in particularly good shape, although ghost-town-like for most of the winter.
What better time for yet another promising piece of economic-development news.
So, it’s back! The Constitution Pipeline. At least the possibility that the Constitution Pipeline, designed to carry natural gas from Northeast Pennsylvania to the East Coast, may finally happen, although not immediately.
Remember Alternate M? It was a route for the Constitution Pipeline across southern Otsego County, endorsed by the county Board of Representatives. It was estimated that is would bring some $13 million a year in property taxes to municipalities the pipeline would have crossed – seven years later, that would have amounted to almost $100 million.
Instead of returning the county board’s embrace, Williams, the Houston-based pipeline builder, opted for a route through Delaware County, where it was challenged every step of the way. Eventually, in 2016, the state DEC denied the permits necessary to cross stream beds.
Just think of it. By now, the villages of Otego and Unadilla, which negotiated agreements with the Constitution builders, would have had natural gas. In Schenevus, 300+/- people might have been employed by now at a distribution center at I-88’s Exit 18.
The City of Oneonta would have had all the natural gas it might have needed for economic development. Existing institutions – the colleges, the hospitals – would have gone beyond the “interruptible powers” that, during cold snaps, requires them to burn dirty, more expensive oil. Who knows what job-producing entity might have been attracted to the D&H Railyards by now.
No, we’re not climate deniers here. It has to be addressed. Something like Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposed $2 trillion for a 10-year Apollo-like program in green research – other Democrats have similar ideas – is essential. A technological solution to climate woes – some would rather we all feel the pain – is the most desirable outcome.
Thinking back to 2012, when the county board endorsed Alternate M: The debate has become much more rigid since then, between the no-gas, no-how crowd and those espousing the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce more sensible position, seeing fossil fuels as a short- or middle-term necessity until full-service renewable technologies come on one.
As argued here before, it’s a macro problem; we’re too micro to matter. Let’s not sacrifice Upstate New York in general – and our Otsego County, in particular – on the altar of climate purism.
That said, while a federal court has overturned the DEC’s ban on the pipeline, no one’s going to be digging a trench anytime soon. The state Attorney General’s Office is certain to appeal, plus Stop the Pipeline and other local groups.
With no one knowing what may happen in the November 2020 president election, is hard to imagine anyone would embark on such a massive undertaking facing such uncertainty.
The visit to Owego was particularly poignant because it’s the one area of the state where there sufficient natural gas in the underlying Marcellus Shale to be commercially extracted. As it is, drillers in nearby Pennsylvania are tapping into New York State and extracting the resource anyhow.
Owego could be rebounding, as some of its Pennsylvania neighbors to the southeast area, instead of declining.
There’s no reason for anyone to object to renewables, but so far renewable proponents have offered no related economic-development strategies. Who doesn’t love the idea of a job-creating eco-commerce park at Oneonta’s D&H railyards. But months after the idea surfaced to enthusiasm, nothing concrete has emerged.
In the face of declining Upstate, the renewable movement has to do more than simply object. We need concepts that can be implemented. Naysayers have to become aye-sayers. Otherwise, the Constitution Pipeline may start to sound pretty good.