HE FEARED FOR BASSETT’S FUTURE
By JIM KEVLIN • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – When Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky arrived a year ago, he was told not to bring natural gas to Cooperstown, he said to a Cooperstown audience Monday, April 9, in one of several “Town Hall” meetings he’s convening around the county.
Asked afterward who told him, he said the leadership of Otsego 2000, board President Nicole Dillingham and Executive Director Ellen Pope. “They advised me there would be strong opposition,” said Zakrevsky. “At the time, I took their advice.”
Dillingham disagreed, “We had a cordial meeting to discuss our work, and his work. We never told him what he could do. That’s absurd.”
Otsego Now is the county’s Industrial Development Agency; Otsego 2000 is the Cooperstown-based environmental group.
There are two options to serving Cooperstown with natural gas, Zakrevsky said in an interview the morning after the “Town Hall” – running a line from Oneonta’s NYSEG system; or the preferred option, running a line down Route 28 from Richfield Springs’ Tennessee line, which has a greater gas supply.
Such a plan would run into opposition both in Fly Creek and Cooperstown, he said he was told.
The issue of energy arose Monday in the Village Hall Ballroom during a discussion of Bassett Hospital’s future in Cooperstown. Zakrevsky and attendees agreed the healthcare network is having trouble recruiting doctors and medical personnel, who then can’t find housing when they get here.
“Don’t assume institutions are going to stay here forever,” the economic-developer told the gathering.
Knowing Bassett only has access to more expensive fuel oil, he said Otsego Now, when approached several months later by the hospital system seeking to refinance its debt, Zakrevsky’s organization was happy to comply.
Last fall, the county IDA refinanced $72 million in existing and new debt at relatively low rates, he said: Bassett at 3 percent and its related Templeton Foundation at 1.3 percent.
Noting that Bassett has already moved some of its back-office operations to Utica, Zakrevsky said the hospital’s management has “a real dedication to staying in the area. But it’s a real challenge for them.”
The relative cost of oil is 50 percent higher than natural gas, according to Michael German, Leatherstocking Gas Co. president who attended the Otsego Chamber’s Energy Summit in January. He said 20 million BTUs of heating oil sells for about $18, compared to $12 for the same heat from natural gas.
In an interview, Dillingham said Otsego 2000 “would never presume to tell Bassett what they can or cannot apply for and do.”
There was discussion about the cost of a decompressor station, since proposed by Otsego Now for the former Pony Farm Commerce Park off I-88 in the Town of Oneonta, she said, adding, “It’s clear that our region does not want these huge bomb trucks in the community. I don’t think that’s a solution.”
She said at another point, “The gas is already here; it is already being used,” she said. “What we are hoping for is a time when we will work together, when we will switch over as much of our needs as possible to renewables for the good of the community. We need to work together on this.”