Attendees Urged, Write Sen. Seward;
Responder Says Crash ‘Handled Well’
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
RICHFIELD SPRINGS – Sometimes with apocalyptic descriptions, activists Bill Huston from Binghamton and Craig Stevens from Silver Lake, Pa., held sway for much of this evening’s informational meeting on XNG’s “virtual pipeline” of trucks bearing compressed natural gas across Otsego County.
For instance, if a “fully loaded” Titan, one brand of truck the two said XNG is using, exploded, it would be the equivalent of 92 tons of TNT, Huston said at one point.
But the evening ended with a reassuring note, as Fly Creek Fire Chief Mike Thayer, in full uniform, went to the front of the room and said of the XNG truck rollover on Route 205 Sept. 5 in the Town of Otsego, “I think it was handled very well.”
After the meeting ended, Thayer – who was in charge at the scene of the Sept. 5 rollover and lives less than two miles away – said, “It has to take an extraordinary set of circumstances to even come close to an apocalyptic version.”
Still, concern about the number of trucks, the speed of the trucks, whether they are too heavily loaded, the proximity to homes – in particular the camps along Canadarago Lake – dominated the evening, as 106 people from all over the county gathered in the Community Center on Ann Street for an informational meeting.
A new concern expressed included whether the truck drivers are speeding because not enough time is being allowed for the round trip. Stevens said the company is requiring drivers to make two round trips per shift; each leg is 133 miles.
The evening was sponsored by the Canadarago Lake Improvement Association and the Richfield Springs Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with Otsego 2000, whose president (and a county board candidate) Nicole Dillingham ended the formal program by urging attendees to approach state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, the Governor’s Office and state DOT and DEC officials with a “simple ask.”
In effect, that XNG trucks carrying gas between Northeast Pennsylvania’s fracking fields and a plant in the Town of Manheim, outside Little Falls, be required to stay on I-88 and the Thruway, and use local two-lane roads for only the final leg.
She also questioned whether XNG’s compression plant – it is putting the trucked natural gas into the Iroquois pipeline at Manheim – should have been required to undergo a SEQR, the state’s Environmental Quality Review. She urged people to contact state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office asking that the SEQR question be revisited.
“Two-lane, undivided highways,” particularly ones with soft shoulders – Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s report said the local rollover happened when the driver reached for a cooler and a back tire slipped onto a soft shoulder – are unsuitable for the heavy truck traffic and should be off limits to XNG’s trucks, Dillingham said. She checked her GIS, she continued, and found doing so would make the trip only seven minutes longer.
She also reported that the federal government allows state governments to ban what they believe are “hazardous” cargoes from particular road; this state has done so in New York City, but never Upstate, she said.
“There are an awful lot of concerns that were raised this evening,” said Matt Smith, XNG co-founder and executive vice president/sales & Marketing, when asked for comment after the meeting.
“We have already discussed a forum with Otsego County coming up in the next few weeks,” he said by phone from the Boston area, “and we look forward to engaging with the community to address a number of erroneous and misleading statements that were raised by interests from outside Otsego County.”
After introductions by Richfield chamber’s Dan Sullivan and the improvement association’s Ryan Fagan, Jo Ann Gardner, who lives alongside Route 205 in Hartwick, offered a personal testimony: “A hundred trucks pass my house, seven days a week.”
The Cherry Valley natural-gas foe, engineer Keith Schue, then traced the history of XNG’s Manheim plant, saying the company in 2014 received permission from the town Zoning Board of Appeals there for a “truck-filling facility” to distribute gas to local plants.
Once the “virtual pipeline” concept was developed, the XNG facility evolved into a compression plant, and thus the town ZBA should revisit XNG’s application, he argued.
Huston and Stevens – they were accompanied by Vera Scroggins, the activist from Forest Lake, Pa., who has been threatened with jail and fines for her anti-gas activities – then gave their presentation.
They reported that, since XNG began sending what they estimated is 143 “bomb trucks” a day from Pennsylvania to Manheim, three of the half-million-dollar vehicles have overturned.
After the state DEC blocked the Constitution Pipeline, intended to carry Pennsylvania gas to the Iroquois near Cobleskill, and hence to the New York Metropolitan Area, XNG devised the “virtual pipeline” idea, they said. From what they can determine, it is the “first in the nation.”
They provided comparative data that showed why the “virtual pipeline” is such a compelling alternative:
- Both Constitution and “virtual pipeline” are approximately the same length, 123 miles vs. 133 respectively.
- The Constitution’s estimated cost was $1 billion; XNG’s plan, $75 million.
- The pipeline required five years to implement and an environmental impact statement; the XNG plan, six months and no EIS.
The political context of the evening was evident in the attendance. Several county reps were present: Republicans Jim Powers of South New Berlin, David Bliss of Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, and Keith McCarty of East Springfield, and Democrat Andrew Stammell, Town of Oneonta.
Democrats Leslie Berliant, who is challenging Bliss, was there, as was Danny Lapin, the OCCA circuit rider who is challenging Republican Len Carson in the City of Oneonta. Also, Dillingham is running against McCarty.
During the Q&A, Powers said “pipelines are the safest and best way to get gas to market,” and he blamed opponents for blocking the Constitution, thus making the “virtual pipeline” viable, although “natural gas trucks are not as dangerous as you might think.”
It appeared Huston and Stevens were about to call the evening to an end when Thayer stood up and walked to the front of the room, introducing himself as neighbor to the crash (Wiley Town Road), fire chief in charge at the scene, and a 20-year truck driver with a CDL Class A license.
“I’m not picking, I’m not choosing. It’s how we live,” he said, referring to the unknown contents of many trucks that traverse local roads.
When the “virtual pipeline” became apparent to locals, XNG was “very responsible,” he said, inviting emergency personnel to the Manheim plant and showing them what was going on there, he said.
He and his firefighters attended a six-hour training session organized in August by XNG and the county’s new emergency services director, Art Klinger, and things played out at the crash scene according to plan: an XNG response team was summoned, arrived promptly and oversaw the treatment of the injured driver and the removal of the rig.
“I think it was handled very well,” he said.