ALBANY — The six Democratic state senators from Long Island are urging state regulators to conditionally approve a pipeline to bring natural gas to the downstate area, citing the negative impacts from a moratorium imposed by National Grid, Politico NY is reporting.
The senators are supporting what’s called the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, which is an expansion of the existing Transco pipeline. Williams is also initiator of the Constitution Pipeline, which may be back in play from Northeast Pennsylvania to Schoharie.
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.
The Constitution Pipeline is back from what many thought was the dead.
Two weeks ago, FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – issued an order that allows the 125-mile Constitution to proceed without the water-quality permits denied in April 2016 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
The water-quality permits were necessary for the pipeline to cross streambeds between Northeast Pennsylvania and its planned connection with the Iroquois Pipeline, near Cobleskill.
The Stop the Pipeline organization, based in Delaware County, and the state Attorney General’s Office, on DEC’s behalf, are expected to challenge FERC’s decision by Sept. 30, the 30-day deadline for appeals.
FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has issued an order overruling the State of New York’s 2016 decision blocking the Constitution Pipeline. The order will be challenged, but if upheld it would allow pipeline construction from Northeast Pennsylvania to Cobleskill.
COOPERSTOWN – The state Legislature’s ambitions are going to be paid for at the local level.
That could be the lesson members of the Otsego County Board of Representatives took way from the Q&A this morning when state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, reported as follows at the board’s monthly meeting:
• The state Legislature has reduced AIM funding (Aid & Incentives to Municipalities) to the state’s 1,326 towns and villages by $59 million. Every municipality in Otsego County, except the villages of Laurens and Otego, will feel the cut. For Otsego County, that will take the form of a $331,320 withholding of sales tax revenues by the state Comptroller’s Office.
It’s a great idea.
In a column at the end of August, Adrian Kuzminski – citing the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap, completed in March – wrote,
“Let me suggest … that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.”
He concluded, “Get key people in the room and tackle the problem.”
County Rep. Meg Kennedy, R-C, Hartwick/Milford, invited Irene Weiser, a member of the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force, to attended the Sept. 18 meeting of the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. That task force’s mission is to encourage economic growth while working to reduce gas usage.
NYSEG, which also serves southern Otsego County, had proposed an $18 million gas pipeline into the Town of Lansing, an Ithaca suburb. The task force has been working with NYSEG, trying to find an alternative to the pipeline; it issued an RFP (request for proposals), but received no proposals. It is not revising the RFP and plans to try again.
That may mean, as Irene Weiser reported, that the RFP was poorly drawn. Or it may mean there’s no ready alternative to natural gas right now, at least a full alternative.
One IGA member, county Rep. Andrew Marietta, D-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego, drew the latter lesson. “I struggle with the short term and the long term of it,” he said. “… We need to figure out some short-term solutions while we’re building for an energy-smart future.”
On these editorial pages over the past two months, a number of knowledgeable writers have submitted well-argued letters and op-eds on the gas vs. renewables debate, spurred by Otsego Now’s CGA application to install a natural-gas decompression station in the former Pony Farm Commerce Park at Route 205 and I-88. Kuzminski is in the no-gas camp, joined by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham. When it appeared to some that the OCCA seemed to be open to hearing more about the decompression station, Executive Director Leslie Orzetti responded emphatically: The Otsego County Conservation Association does not support gas expansion.
On the other side, Kuzminski’s fellow columnist, Mike Zagata, argued fossil fuels are necessary right now. Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky said, without natural gas, the Oneonta area has actually missed going after 500 jobs this year alone. Dick Downey of Otego, who led the Unatego Landowners Association in support of the Constitution Pipeline, likewise falls into this camp.
Dave Rowley of West Oneonta, the sensible retired Edmeston Central superintendent, who served as interim superintendent in Oneonta before Joe Yelich’s hiring, probably caught it best in last week’s op-ed: Everyone wants renewable energy, but it’s simply not sufficiently available. For now, natural gas is necessary.
This is a long way of saying, everybody’s right. In the face of global warming – yes, not everybody “believes” it’s happening; but why reject the preponderant scientific consensus? – clean energy is a necessity.
California is on the forefront, with its Senate Bill 100 aiming at 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. (New York State is aiming for 50 percent by 2030.) Greenhouse-gas emission is a separate category.)
Further, Otsego County’s population (60,000) is 0.02 percent of the nation’s (320 million), one 200th of 1 percent. Even if local energy needs were fully served, it is a negligible piece of a huge national – even international – challenge.
We all want to be part of the solution, but the solution is not going to be reached between Roseboom and Unadilla. It will be developed at the state and national levels, and when there’s an answer, we can support it and embrace it.
Meanwhile, the county’s population is dropping. Some 16.3 percent of our remaining neighbors (slightly more than 9,000) live below the property line ($24,600 for a family of four). That poverty rate is 14 percent higher than the national (14 points).
Plus, there are millions of state dollars – some $15 million so far – targeted for the City of Oneonta’s revitalization.
Now’s not the time to ensure our unmet energy needs – for homes, institutions, businesses and industry – remain unmet for a generation and a half.
Yes, the county Board of Representatives should name an energy task force; Adrian Kuzminski is right. But it should have two goals.
• First, to come up with ways to meet today’s energy needs now; perhaps CNG – compressed natural gas – is part of it (though not XNG trucks on roads that can’t handle them). But so are renewables, like the second solar farm being built in Laurens.
• Second, to fast-track renewables – solar, winds, heats pumps, the whole gamut – to put ourselves on the cutting edge of the future.
For her part, Kennedy is commited to pursue the task-force idea. In an interview, she said it must be made up of “people who want to reduce demand; and people who know the demands.
At base, though, true believers need not apply, only open minds, or the cause is lost.
To end where we began, with Kuzminski: “We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.”
So let’s do the job.
Recently, nearly 100 people crowded the Oneonta Town Hall to respond to a report by Otsego Now head, Jody Zakrevsky, about the controversial gas decompression station proposed for Oneonta.
The backlash was overwhelming. A long series of speakers unanimously condemned the project and demanded instead a full-scale effort to transition to renewables as soon as possible.
As the speakers pointed out, a myriad of solutions exist to the problem of inadequate natural-gas supply affecting some institutions and businesses in Oneonta. We heard about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, replacing gas and oil furnaces with heat exchange systems, and developing local renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.
This isn’t pie in the sky. The Otsego County Conservation Association, for instance, is currently supporting a NYSERDA-funded program, Heat Smart Otsego, to promote the financial and environmental benefits of currently available non-fossil fuel technologies. Check it out.
The speakers also made clear the gravity of this issue.
We’re not just talking about inconvenience, higher costs, or limits to local economic development. We’re talking about a global crisis increasingly affecting us all.
The inability of our local community to do its part in getting us off fossil fuels is symptomatic of a larger political failure which is dangerous to our future. We have mostly relied on someone else to deal with this problem, usually in Albany or Washington.
They haven’t done the job, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to, at least not unless they’re prodded from below.
Yes, our community continues to be divided over energy policy. The editorial in last week’s edition of this paper characterized speakers at the town of Oneonta meeting as “anti-gas true believers.”
There were a couple of strident speakers, as with any large group, but nearly all were thoughtful people pointing out the very real and harmful consequences of using more gas.
Mike Zagata in last week’s paper also misinforms the public by talking about “clean-burning natural gas,” when in fact there’s no such thing. The combustion of natural gas unavoidably produces CO2, a polluting greenhouse gas. Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2.
Even worse, he ignores the seepage of methane from wells, pipes and compressors, which adds another, more potent greenhouse gas to the mix, making natural gas as bad as any other fossil fuel.
By contrast, Zakrevsky, to his credit, bemoaned his fate at the Town of Oneonta meeting, confessing to the crowd his own confusion and lack of expertise. He was hired to promote local economic development, he noted, not to make energy policy. He’s exactly right. He and Otsego Now are not qualified to make energy policy and should not be tasked with that burden.
What was painfully obvious at the meeting was the lack of coordination among capable parties interested in developing a local energy plan. Currently we have groups too often confined to their respective silos – elected officials, economic development people, the local business community, the colleges, the hospitals, the environmentalists, etc.
Each of them is working on their piece of the elephant. What’s lacking is an effective mechanism for combining their resources and talents to develop a plan for all of us.
In my last column I mentioned the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap (Google it!) as a precedent for what should happen here. That initiative began in 2010 as part of a Tompkins County Energy Strategy for 2020. It was first developed as a project by Cornell graduate students.
In 2014, a steering committee was formed composed of individuals “who represent the breadth of experience, interest and perspectives within the community regarding our energy future.” The draft Energy Roadmap was then presented to numerous community groups and has since become the focus of Tompkins county energy policy.
This Energy Roadmap doesn’t rely on hiring expensive outside consultants, who are often ignorant of local circumstances; nor does it narrow options by handing authority to a single, unprepared agency. Instead it utilizes the expertise already found in a variety of existing organizations and individuals.
We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.
Let me suggest, again, that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.
The point is to get key people in the same room and tackle the problem. It’s up to the County Board to make this happen. The time is NOW.
Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.
It’s amazing that the natural gas opponents all talk about wanting to protect the environment by moving from natural gas to “renewables.” Is it that they are misinformed or have an agenda?
It’s difficult to tell, but here’s what the science tells us. Natural gas, or methane, is naturally occurring. It is emitted from volcanoes, manure piles and humans. It is the cleanest burning fuel yielding carbon dioxide and water.
If we remember our high school biology, it is carbon dioxide and water that green plants use in the process of photosynthesis to produce oxygen and sugar – two very important products for humankind and all animals that breathe oxygen and consume green plants containing sugar for food.
To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate?
Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.
Because the proposed Constitution Pipeline has not been built and there is an increasing demand for clean-burning natural gas, companies are looking for ways to serve customers.
One of those ways involves compressing the natural gas to reduce its volume and then transporting it in specially developed canisters. That approach is being used in our area and some people are concerned about it.
Here’s what we know. There have been accidents with trucks carrying this gas and there haven’t been any releases – the safety mechanisms built into the trucks and containers have worked as expected. That is a good thing.
Is the same true for the fuel oil, propane and gasoline trucks that have traveled our highways for decades? There have been accidents and spills, but not the outcry facing the current use of trucks to transport natural gas. Why is that?
Institutions and businesses in Oneonta are facing curtailment during periods of unusual cold and heat.
What that means is that there isn’t enough gas being delivered by NYSEG to meet current needs – no less to support any new demand that might arise if a business that could provide jobs wanted to locate here. As it stands right now, they won’t locate here because there isn’t enough natural gas or three-phase power.
Some say Otsego Now should be condemned for trying to remedy that situation. Instead, they would like to form a committee to study it and dilute the momentum – the oldest trick in the book. If you want to delay something, form a committee of folks with widely different opinions and interests.
The anti-fossil fuel crowd will tell us renewables are the environmental panacea – they are without issues. Really, now?
It takes about 20 acres of solar panels to produce enough electricity for about 1,000 households – and we still need fossil fuels to produce the electricity needed to heat or cool our homes at night and to recharge our electric vehicles as off-peak power is cheaper.
New York’s population is about 20 million. If we multiply 20 acres by 20 million and then divide by 1,000 we get 400,000 – the number of acres that would be covered by the solar panels needed to produce enough daytime only electricity for New Yorkers.
That’s 400,000 acres that used to be forests, farmland and wildlife habitat. And what about having to dispose of the hazardous wastes in the solar panels that once produced electricity?
We could use hydro-power, but that means building dams that impede the progress of fish trying to move upstream to spawn.
We could use wind power, but that means using windmills that kill migrating birds.
We could use woody biomass, but that, along with the other “renewable” energy projects that have been brought forward for this area, was shot down by those who oppose anything that might lead to prosperity for our area.
All of a sudden, it isn’t so simple – in fact it’s downright complicated and might take some time to get it right. In the meantime, we have an abundant supply of gas – natural gas or methane – to serve as a bridge to get us where we all want to be – warm or cool depending on the time of year and pollution free.
Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.
On the surface, the
argument makes sense,
Boston-based Xpress Natural Gas’ trucks, carrying fuel from fracking fields in Northeastern Pennsylvania across Otsego County to the Iroquois Pipeline near Little Falls, are legal carriers and should be allow to use
New York State roads just like
any other legal carrier.
After all, what’s next? Should we then ban oil tankers? Suburban Propane delivery trucks? Dump trucks, where pebbles might from time to time slip out from under the tarps? Loud motorcycles? Model Ts and other antiques that don’t operate at
current fuel-efficiency standards?
Oh where, oh where will
There’s a certain logic to the argument. But, honestly, XNG trucks have caused four “incidents” – three down-and-out accidents, no doubt about it (Google “XNG” at www.allotsego.com) – since they began crossing the county en masse 18 months ago.
Have there been three oil-tanker crashes? Three Suburban Propane truck crashes? Sure, pebbles have slipped from under tarps, but the results are an occasional cracked windshield; should we ban them completely for that?
Face it, the XNG trucks are different. For one, there are just that many more of them: 80 a day, back and forth, for 160 individual trips. In 500 days, that’s 80,000 trips. The magnitude alone assures there will continue to be “incidents” – and worse.
“Four ‘incidents’ in Otsego County. That tells me these trucks are different from other vehicles,” said Nicole Dillingham, president of Otsego 2000, the Cooperstown-based environmental group that has called for action where local governments have not. “They are too heavy. They’re top heavy. And the drivers are tired.”
Reporters for this newspaper have covered the crashes. In two cases, the trucks that have fallen over did so on Route 205 north
of Hartwick hamlet, a sparsely populated stretch.
The Wednesday, July 11, crash just shy of Schuyler Lake, was of a different magnitude – or easily could have been. The fully loaded northbound rig came over a very slight rise on a very slight curve and toppled off the road. Just a 10th of a mile
further on – maybe 150 yards; a
football field and a half – was the hamlet itself: homes and people.
Looking at the scene, it would be hard for any sensible person to conclude: a little bit farther, that same rig under very similar circumstances could have had serious – even fatal – results.
No, we’re not being overdramatic. Go see for yourself.
Equally troubling is a circumstance that’s becoming clear: In the three cases, the trailers being pulled by cabs slipped off the pavement for a moment, sank into too-soft shoulders and toppled. On many, many stretches of Route 205 and Route 28, the shoulders are the same and, given 16,000 trips every 100 days, it’s going to happen again and again.
It doesn’t have to be.
Dillingham’s been getting the run-around. She goes to the towns; they say it has to be handled at the state level by the Department of Transportation. She goes to the DOT, it says its hands are tied without a request for a “traffic study” from the towns along the route.
A traffic study might well determine the trucks are simply too heavy for the roads, and order them onto four-lanes – I-88 or I-81 to the New York State Thruway (I-90) and, hence, Little Falls. There’s a ready alternative.
But, according to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, chairman of the county Association of Town Supervisors, his colleagues believe a truck
being operated legally should be
allowed on any legal roads. They tell him: What’s next? Are we going to ban Suburban Propane delivery trucks? And there we are.
What are some other options? Maybe a petition by citizens would convince the DOT to act. Maybe a request – firmly worded – from the county Board of Representatives, which next meets Wednesday, Aug. 1, plus vigorous follow-up, would do the trick. Certainly, our state delegation – Senator Seward and Assemblymen Magee, Miller, etc. – could dent DOT’s resolve to do nothing.
Right now, Otsego 2000 is drafting a resolution for town boards to consider passing. And Wood said Dillingham is welcome to talk at one of his association’s monthly meetings. He should invite her to do that soonest.
OK, there have been four “incidents,” three of them crashes. We’ve been lucky it hasn’t happened in a populated hamlet. But it will.
Let’s not wait until an XNG rig plows into someone’s living room or rolls over someone’s mobile home, with perhaps a fatal effect.
Bad things can happen, we can see. Let’s act before they do.
A federal Court of Appeals today denied the Constitution Pipeline’s appeal of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2016 decision blocking the 121-mile project intended to carry fracked gas from Northeast Pennsylvania, through Delaware County, to connect with the Iroquois Pipeline near Cobleskill.
The case was argued last Nov. 16 before the Second Circuit in New York City, and the decision was handed down today.
In Thursday’s weekly radio report on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), reported on the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ vote urging Governor Cuomo to get behind the Constitution Pipeline. Also, on excitement about an Oneonta spruce being chosen for the Rockefeller Center ice rink this year.
The weighted vote was 3,672 ayes to 2,022 nays, with one absence.
Voting aye were Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla; Jim Powers, R-Butternuts; Kathy Clark, R-Otego; Meg Kennedy, R-Hartwick; Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield; Dan Wilbur, R-Burlington, Len Carson, R-Oneonta, and Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta.
Voting nay were Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta; Dave Bliss, R-Middlefield/Cooperstown; Andrew Marietta, Otsego/Cooperstown; Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, and Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta.
Peter Oberacker, R-Maryland, was absent.
The vote came near the end of today’s four-hour monthly meeting, after Stammel asked that Resolution 315 be removed from the “consent agenda,” which would have assured near-automatic passage.
COOPERSTOWN – “Poverty is the illness. Good jobs are the cure,” county Reps. Jim Powers, R-Butternuts, and Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, state in the draft of a letter to Governor Cuomo due for consideration at the county Board of Representatives’ October meeting at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Cooperstown.
The letter urges the governor to “reconsider the many benefits the Constitution Pipeline could provide our area, and direct the Department of Environmental Conservation to work constructively with the natural-gas industry for the pipeline’s completion.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation today announced it has denied the water-quality permit required for the Constitution Pipeline, blocking the 124-mile-long project for the time being.
“Although DEC has granted certificates for other projects, the application by Constitution for these certificates fails to meet New York State’s water quality standards,” DEC said in a statement. At issue is the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification.
The state was required to reject the certification by the end of April, or jurisdiction would have moved to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.