SHOW TIME! Calls Mount for End to Secrecy at Cargill’s Cayuga Salt Mine

The Cuomo Administration faces mounting pressure from activists, town boards and state legislators to fully apply state environmental law to Cargill’s giant salt mine under Cayuga Lake.
A legal showdown in court looks inevitable.CargillMiningOperationsREADYT
For decades, the state has allowed the nation’s largest private company to use its best judgement in conducting sub-lake mining operations. It has never required a full environmental impact statement for the seven-mile, 10,000-acre-plus project, and it has zealously kept details of the growing risks under lock and key.
In recent weeks, calls have intensified for details on the science behind the dangers involved — if not for a total ban on all salt mining under the lake.
The biggest concern is the rising risk of a catastrophic mine flood. As Cargill pushes north into sections where the bedrock buffer to the lake thins out, chances for a breach are seen as increasingly likely. Independent scientists say a mine flood could trigger a disastrous mix of super-salty brine from the mine with the lake itself, jeopardizing Cayuga’s status as a drinking water source for 31,000.KarenMapReady
Although the state has required the company to post a security deposit of $3.5 million, that would likely be a tiny fraction of the bill taxpayers would be stuck with if things got ugly and Cargill bolted. The state has never required a closure plan.
Since September, the towns of Ithaca, Ulysses, Trumansburg, Danby, Aurora, Caroline, and Union Springs have passed resolutions supporting a lawsuit aimed at forcing a full public airing of the geologic risks.
Meanwhile, State Assembly members Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) and Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) have called for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to halt all permitting for mining under the lake. They want all future salt mining to be conducted under dry land.
In two letters to the DEC earlier this Fall, the legislators raised the specter of the 1994 collapse of Retsof, the largest salt mine in North America, near Geneseo, where geologic forces are strikingly similar to those under Cayuga.
When the Retsof roof gave way, water from an aquifer rushed in. Land above the mine sank several feet, damaging houses, roads and bridges. Some private wells produced salt water or simply went dry.
The DEC has all but brushed off any Retsof parallels.
The state permit for Cargill’s Cayuga mine expired Nov. 1, but the DEC allows mining to continue. It’s all perfectly legal, the agency notes, because Cargill has applied for an extension.InsidemineREADY
The granting of that indefinite grace period is ironic, activists argue, in light of evidence the company has been violating the terms of the expired permit.
Emails between DEC officials confirm that Cargill ignored permit-required 1,000-foot setbacks from geological “anomalies” — sections too dangerous to mine.
In a Feb. 2, 2016 email, the DEC’s Simone Rodriguez asked the DEC’s Steve Army and Christopher Lucidi to confirm that an internal report showed Cargill had mined within 1,000 feet of the “Frontenac Point Anomaly.” That report indicated that “NW2 probably shouldn’t have been mined” because it violated “permit condition 9a,” she wrote.
“You are correct,” Army replied minutes later. “NW2 was advanced into the 1000’ setback, and yes, it is the same setback mentioned in the permit.”
Another email from Cargill mining engineer Dave Plumeau to the DEC’s Army and Lucidi explained that the company had switched to larger mine pillars out of concern about weakness in the roof. “This design provides better support for the overburden and creates lower stress changes within the strata above the mine,” Plumeau wrote on Nov. 4, 2016.
If Cargill has been violating setback requirements and changing pillar designs without first obtaining or even seeking permission from the DEC, then any state permit renewal must include a detailed environmental review, according to John Dennis, a member of the steering committee of the group CLEAN, or Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now.DennisREADY
Dennis laid out his argument in an Oct. 9 letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and the directors of DEC Regions 7 and 8, the jurisdictions that oversee the Cargill mine.
Any switch from “yielding pillar” mine design to “large pillar” design involves safety tradeoffs that are widely acknowledged within the industry, and it merits thorough analysis, Dennis wrote.
Setback violations aren’t trivial either, Dennis said. “The issue of whether DEC-mandated setbacks are binding requirements … or ‘recommendations’ that Cargill is free to ignore is another example of an issue that needs detailed review,” Dennis wrote.
If Cuomo’s environmental regulators ignore Dennis and rubber stamp Cargill’s mine permit renewal, CLEAN promises to sue to force a rigorous public environmental review.
The Town of Ulysses, which borders the lake and the mine on the west, supports CLEAN’s planned legal initiative.
In a resolution enacted Nov. 14, the town said the DEC must scrupulously follow the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQR, when considering permit renewal. So far, the risks to Cayuga Lake (and Ulysses’ drinking water) “have not been property reviewed and vetted under SEQR.”AnomaliesREADY

The Ulysses resolution expressed the town’s willingness to join a lawsuit that seeks to force the first draft environmental impact statement under SEQR rules since Cargill bought the mine in 1970.
But the DEC is under no deadline to resolve the mine permit renewal. It routinely allows companies to operate for years under expired permits, especially if a renewal threatens to open up a can of worms.
Far more pressing is the question of whether the DEC will be dragged to court to defend a controversial permitting victory it awarded Cargill in August. The deadline to sue in that case falls next week.
The permit allows Cargill to drill — without any special environmental review —an 14-foot wide air shaft in Lansing that connects to the northern end of the mine.
Under federal regulations, miners must be able to evacuate a mine within one hour. Cargill employees working 2,000 feet underground at the northern end of the mine are now almost an hour’s drive from the nearest air shaft. Cargill is bumping up against the federal time limit. The new air shaft, known as Shaft 4, would provide them a safety margin. It would also enable the company to expand mining to the north without tripping over the federal regulation.LiftonREADYEnglebrightREADY
In a July 13 letter, Lifton and Englebright, a geologist who chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, explicitly warned DEC Commissioner Seggos not to grant the Shaft 4 permit because it would “directly or indirectly, lead to (further) salt mining under the lake.”
Seggos dismissed their concerns. In his written response to the legislators Oct. 17, he said the air shaft “does not immediately impact the mine or mining operations.”
Members of CLEAN contend that Cargill shrewdly laid the groundwork for the assertion that Shaft 4 has nothing to do with mining operations.READYSeggos
First, in 2015 it sought permission to mine a narrow, one-mile strip of 150 acres that links the main mine to the spot where Shaft 4 would be drilled. That application disavowed any connection to a future air shaft that might eventually be built at its terminus.
“All activities associated with this modification will take place underground, and there will be no additional surface development associated with this proposal,” the DEC’s April 2015 public notice stated. Two months later the DEC approved the expansion.LogoREADY
The following summer, when Cargill published plans for Shaft 4, it insisted that the air shaft project had nothing to do with mining operations.
That prompted Rob Mackenzie of Trumansburg to complain to the agency that the company had purposely separated the projects to sidestep an environmental review.
“The DEC and the public were badly misled by Cargill in its application to mine the 150 acres necessary to reach the subsurface location where Mine Shaft 4 is now located,” Mackenzie wrote in November 2016.
Meanwhile, CLEAN began to cite the conclusions of several independent geologists, including Raymond Vaughan of Buffalo and Richard Young of Geneseo, that mine flooding and lake salinization were real threats if Cargill’s mining continued its northward march under a gradually thinning mine roof. In fact, they argued, the drilling of the shaft itself might lead to dangerous mine flooding.
Both of those areas of concern are overblown, according to Lawrence M. Cathles III, a Cornell professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
In two lengthy and technical open letters to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past summer, Cathles said the DEC was perfectly justified in approving the Shaft 4 project without a special environmental review.
A website emblazoned with Cornell’s seal links to those open letters dismissing the risks cited by CLEAN, the towns and the state legislators. “Natural flow through Lake Cayuga and the slow nature of mine collapse means that flooding of the Cayuga mine does not pose a significant risk of lake salinification,” the website states.CathlesREADY
Cathles is no stranger to scientific debates with political overtones. At the height of the fracking debate in 2012, he skirmished for months with fellow Cornell scientists Robert Howarth and Tony Ingraffea (now retired) after ripping their landmark article on fugitive methane emissions from natural gas drilling. Cathles has also expressed skepticism about orthodox stances on climate change.
By publicly wading into the controversy over the Shaft 4 permit, Cathles lent intellectual heft to Cargill’s argument and provided Seggos political cover to grant the permit without an environmental review.
The company was pleased by Seggos’ decision, saying it enhanced ventilation and safety for its miners.WilczynskiREADY
“Cargill followed the rigorous environmental review process established by the DEC,” said Shawn Wilczynski, the mine’s manager. “We felt the DEC made the right decision based on science, the information compiled to support the permit issuance and the independent analysis completed that ensures the shaft poses no threat of significant environmental impact.”
But Walter Hang of Ithaca, a veteran environmental activist who has worked closely with Lifton and Englebright, expressed deep skepticism this week about the DEC’s ability to compel Cargill to mine safely under Cayuga.WalterHangREADY
Even CLEAN’s efforts to compel rigorous environmental review are probably in vain because they stop short of insisting on an outright ban on salt mining under the lake, Hang said. He’s gathered nearly 800 signatures on a letter calling for a ban on sub-lake mining.
At a CLEAN forum in June, Hang urged the group to get more overtly political.
“If you rely on the DEC to protect this lake, they’re just not going to do it,” said Hang, president of Toxics Targeting. “… We need a political campaign … the same kind of battle against Gov. Cuomo that won the fight against shale fracking.”
But Brian Eden said CLEAN has chosen a more nuanced approach of attempting to engage with Cargill.
Eden wonders what might happen if Cargill were to be forced to abruptly halt sub-lake mining and then determines it can’t make a profit from new mining under land nearby. That might leave the company with little incentive to hang around long enough to close the mine safely.

THE FINGER LAKES — TRASH CENTRAL?

Mystery Company Wants State’s Largest Waste Incinerator Within 50 miles of State’s Three Largest Landfills

The company that plans to build the state’s largest trash incinerator in the heart of the Finger Lakes doesn’t see a need to prepare a full environmental impact statement for its $365 million project “because we are going to meet all the (permitting) standards,” its Rochester attorney said this week.ChurchillquoteREADY
The plant would burn trash arriving by truck or rail from near and far, much of it from New York City.
It’s setting in Romulus — midway between Lake Seneca and Lake Cayuga and only 12 miles south of the state’s largest landfill — has drawn opposition on multiple fronts.
Douglas Knipple, president of the Geneva-based Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition, an anti-landfill group, said it would be “ridiculous” to proceed with such a massive waste project without public involvement in a full EIS.
“The Finger Lakes is under siege,” Knipple said. “A region can either have agriculture, tourism, education and wine or gas pipelines, trains, trucks, monuments to waste and incinerators. You can’t have both.”TrainREADYs
In an interview Nov. 28, Alan Knauf, attorney for Circular enerG LLC, said “real environmentalists who aren’t just NIMBYs” should support his client’s incinerator plan. He touted the environmental advantages of burning trash rather than piling it in towering landfills that stink and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Steve Churchill, chairman of the environmental committee of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, conceded his point, but added: “Incineration may be better technology than landfilling, so build it — but build it down near New York City where the waste is.”
Churchill’s committee voted 4-0 this week for a law banning new waste facilities such as the incinerator in Seneca County. But even if the full county board were to pass the law, the town of Romulus could override it. Still, the committee’s action reflects local resistance to the mysteriously-backed project.
Knauf declined to name the players behind Circular enerG, which was formed in January and has no track record. And he said it was too early to say who might build or operate the facility. Costich Engineering in Rochester and Daigler Engineering in Buffalo have been involved in the early stages.KnaufPDFREADY
Knauf said his initial goal to file Circular enerG’s applications for state permits by yearend was probably too optimistic, given the complexity of air quality issues.
Meanwhile, the Town of Romulus Planning Board is scheduled to consider a special permit for the project at a meeting on Monday, Dec. 4 (7p.m. at the Romulus Firehouse 2010 Cayuga St. Romulus).
The plant and its 260-foot smokestack would be built on a 48-acre tract at the former Seneca Army Depot. Knauf said the site is owned by Seneca Depot LLC, which shares a Rochester address with Circular enerG, Rochester developer David M. Flaum and Top Capital of New York.
Flaum is “a partner in Seneca Depot LLC,” and therefore “the landlord or the seller,” Knauf added.
Circular enerG’s incorporation papers don’t list owners, directors or investors. Knauf said the company is “affiliated with” Top Capital, though not a subsidiary. “The companies have a couple of principals in common,” Knauf said, declining to elaborate.
Top Capital’s founder, Zheng “Gene” Zhou, said in a press release in July that he and his business partners were “investing more than $200M in a ‘circular economy’ project that will create energy from trash …”GeneZhouREADY
The contact spokesperson for Zhou on that release, Jamie Frumusa, did not respond to emailed questions about the Romulus project or about Top Capital’s reported use of a controversial “golden visa” program to raise investment capital.
Under that federal EB-5 program, foreigners can obtain visas in exchange for investing $500,000-$1 million in projects that create U.S. jobs. Almost 90% of “golden visa” investors are from China, as is Zhou, a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In January 2016 press release, Top Capital had touted its plans to draw on EB-5 investments and said it had used them in financing its Heritage Square assisted living complex in Brockport.EB-5READY
But early this year, Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation to kill the 27-year-old program.
“The EB-5 program has been rife with fraud and national security weaknesses,” Grassley said. “It has also strayed from Congress’ original intent to spur economic development in rural and depressed areas.”
Asked if EB-5 investments could be used to help fund the Romulus incinerator, Knauf said: “There is no way. They would not be doing that.”
The Romulus facility would be designed to burn up to 2,640 tons of trash a day, or nearly half the limit allowed at the state’s largest landfill, Seneca Meadows Inc., 12 miles to the north, between Waterloo and Seneca Falls. (The state’s second and third largest landfills, High Acres in Fairport and the Ontario County in Stanley, are also within 50 miles of Romulus).
An executive summary produced by Circular enerG says that as many as 176 waste-hauling trucks would arrive at the incinerator each day, along with 62 other trucks carrying ash, scrap metals and other materials. If rail service to the plant is arranged as planned, up to 30 railcars a day would greatly reduce that truck traffic.
The executive summary’s analysis of the project’s greenhouse gas effects assumes “an average distance of 254 miles” between the source of the trash and the Romulus incinerator. That’s the distance to New York City.NYS10incineratorsREADY
New York State already has 10 waste-burning incinerators, including seven that are owned or operated by Covanta, a publicly-traded waste company based in Morristown, N.J., according to a February report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and a list complied by Harvard University.
Four of Covanta’s New York plants are located on Long Island, including the largest: Covanta Hempstead in Westbury. That plant has 82 employees and is designed to accept 2,505 tons of trash per day. It has three boilers and produces up to 72 megawatts of power.
The Romulus plant would have a slightly larger trash-burning capacity and roughly the same number of employees. It would run four boilers and produce up to 50 megawatts of power.
The state’s other nine waste incinerators have waste capacities ranging from 200 tons per day in Oswego to 2,250 tons daily in both Peekskill and Niagara Falls. They generate between 4 and 60 megawatts of power and employ between 28 and 87 employees.
Proponents of waste-to-energy technology argue that the U.S. lags far behind Europe and Japan in reducing landfilling through recycling and waste incineration.
For example, the five European nations with the highest recycling rates (Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden) are among the biggest fans of waste incineration, according to a 2013 report in Ensia, a non-profit magazine that reports on worldwide environmental issues.EUWasteIncinerationREADY
In fact, that study said the 27 countries in the European Union burn 22% of their total waste while sending 38% to landfills. It said the U.S. burns only 7% while sending 69% to landfills. The most extreme European case, Sweden, burns 49% of its waste, recycles 50% and sends only 1% to landfills.
The Ensia report scolds U.S. environmental groups for stifling development of waste incineration and — by default — encouraging landfilling.
For at least the past six years, Covanta has been lobbying — unsuccessfully, so far —to have its so-called “waste-to-energy” plants included within the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio now made up primarily of wind, solar and hydro. Eligibility on the renewables list could open up opportunities for the refuse incinerators to win special subsidies. But environmental groups have protested Covanta’s push, arguing that waste-to-energy plants pollute the air and including them would suck incentive funding away from more traditional renewables.Covanta70%READY
Like Covanta, Circular enerG has gone out of its way to stress its potential green attributes, at least compared to landfilling trash.
“The facility will improve environmental quality and reduce the carbon footprint from waste generation,” the company says in its executive summary. “…This will result in a savings of about 168,485 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent compared to landfilling.”
Circular enerG said the Town of Romulus, population 4,316, “has already determined that a waste-to-energy facility constitutes “renewable energy production.” It said it hopes to negotiate a host agreement with the town before yearend.
Knauf said his client would prefer to see the town act as lead regulatory agency for the project instead of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Whoever takes the lead — the town or the DEC — will decide whether to require a full environmental impact statement with public hearings and comments.
The alternative favored by Circular enerG would be a less rigorous environmental assessment process that requires little or no public input. That “perfunctory” process is unsatisfactory because it would squelch concerns of the wine industry in particular on regional truck and train traffic as well as air pollution, Knipple said.
Several major waste incinerators around the country have stirred controversy over air quality.
For example, a Wheelabrator facility in Baltimore, which features a 315-foot smokestack emblazoned with the city’s name just off Interstate 95, reportedly has been a major emitter of smog-producing nitrogen oxide.
“They produce more NOx than coal-fired plants for the amount of energy generated,” a lawyer for the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington told the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
Another group based in Berkeley, Calif., the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, blasted incinerator subsidies in its 2011 report “Burning Public Money for Dirty Energy: Misdirected Subsidies for ‘Waste-to-Energy’ Incinerators.”
In New York, Covanta Hemstead was cited in a March 2017 report by the State Comptroller as the state’s fifth largest recipient of net tax exemptions from local Industrial Development Authorities in 2015.CovantaHemsteadREADY
The report showed that the $296 million Covanta project obtained $15.8 million in tax exemptions that year, with no offsetting payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). That represented 2.3% of the total $694.7 million in IDA-awarded tax breaks to 4,484 projects statewide in 2015.
Meanwhile, a DEC air quality permit review report from July 2016 described Covanta Hemstead’s ozone release performance as “severe non-attainment.”
Four of New York’s 10 other active trash incinerators have been operating with expired air quality permits, according to the February 2017 DEC list.

 

Giant Waste Incinerator Project Planned for Former Seneca Army Depot

A major municipal waste-to-energy incineration complex has been proposed for a 48-acre site at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus about 10 miles southeast of Geneva.ComparableREADY
The facility would be designed to burn 2,640 tons of trash a day — about 45% of the limit allowed at nearby Seneca Meadows Inc., the state’s largest landfill, which is now slated to close in 2025.
As many as 176 waste-hauling trucks would arrive per day, as well as 62 other trucks hauling ash, scrap metal and other materials.
If rail service begins as planned, up to 30 railcars a day could significantly cut those truck deliveries. Finger Lakes Railway already has tracks reaching into the Seneca Army Depot property.FingerLakesREADY
Developers tout the project’s relatively low carbon footprint, projecting greenhouse gas savings of about 168,485 tons per year (of carbon dioxide equivalent) compared to landfilling an equivalent amount of waste.
But those developers are staying the shadows.
The proposal comes from a mystery limited liability company called Circular enerG, which was formed in January, according to state corporation records.
State records don’t disclose Circular enerG’s officers, directors, owners or funding sources, but they do list an address in Rochester.DavidFlaumREADY
That address is shared by Flaum Management Co., which is owned by David M. Flaum, a wealthy Rochester developer and voting trustee at Syracuse University who has also pursued upstate casino projects.
Also sharing that Rochester address with Flaum’s development company is Seneca Depot LLC, which reportedly owns 900 acres of the 10,000-acre former Seneca Army Depot tract. Seneca Depot LLC is shown on a map of the proposed waste-to-energy facility site near the corner of Fayette and East Kendaia roads in Romulus.
The first phase of the project is due to begin in December 2019, but it is subject to local, state and federal permits. When that phase is completed 2021, the facility can begin accepting an average of about 1,320 tons of municipal waste a day, while also generating 25 megawatts of electric power.
By December 2023, the waste load is due to increase to 2,640 tons per day, and generation capacity could climb to 50 megawatts.
The facility will have four waste heat boilers and four moving grate furnaces. It will require a 44,000-cubic-yard waste bunker and a leachate collection pit.
It’s unloading platform and feeding hoppers will accommodate trailers hauling 20-30 tons of refuse each.SiteMapREADY
The plant will have a 260 foot stack and a water tank with a capacity of 475,000 gallons. A special permit will be needed to allow for discharges into Reeder Creek, which the state has already designated as an “impaired” waterway due to its very high phosphorus readings (suspected of being caused by leaching of old munitions).
Developers will also need a special use permit, a host agreement and other approvals from the Town of Romulus. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will need to provide a solid waste management permit, a water withdrawal permit, and other clearances. A federal Title V Clean Air Act permit will also be required.
The DEC must decide whether to take the role of lead regulatory agency on the project or to allow that duty to fall to the Town of Romulus. That choice matters because the lead agency decides whether to require or waive a full environmental impact statement for a project.
An EIS includes significant public disclosure and input and often tends to delay projects. Generally, developers prefer local governments to take the lead because they are far more likely to skip the EIS.
But the DEC may insist on taking the lead and ordering an EIS in recognition of the project’s potential impact well beyond Romulus. The truck and rail traffic, water discharges and air emissions could be seen as a negatives for the influential wine and tourism industries on the east side of Seneca Lake.JoeCampbellReady

“We are outraged that yet another assault on the Finger Lakes has arisen,” said Joseph Campbell, co-founder of Gas Free Seneca, a group that rallied business against a plan to store liquefied propane gas in salt caverns at the southern end of Seneca Lake.
“Residents, businesses and property owners on both ends and on both sides of the lake could be watching trash trains go by,” Campbell added. “This is not compatible with the wine and tourist industry’s vision, which is the economic engine of the area. The region has banded together to fight other ill-conceived projects in the past, and we will oppose this plan with equal fervor.”

The project is located in an area restricted by deed to commercial and industrial uses. The site is within an area where paint was allegedly disposed of, where contaminated soil was removed and where groundwater monitoring continues.
Developers say they want to turn these contaminated lands into a beneficial use.

 

DEC Ignores Warnings on Toxic Blooms

Hot Water Spewed By Power Plants May Fuel HABs, Expert Says

Scientists widely agree that warm water is a key fuel for toxic cyanobacteria, the super-dangerous algae look-alike.
But even after the most intense season of cyanobacteria outbreaks ever recorded in the Finger Lakes, there’s no consensus on what to do about the electric power plants that dump hundreds of millions of gallons of hot water a day into lakes stricken this September.BoyerREADY
— Seneca Lake must absorb up to 190 million gallons a day at temperatures up to 108 degrees from Greenidge Generation in Dresden.
— Cayuga Lake has to receive up to 243 million gallons a day of heated water from AES Cayuga north of Lansing.
— Lake Ontario must accept well over a billion gallons a day of hot water from a combination of three New York nuclear plants operated by Exelon Corp. — FitzPatrick and Nine Mile near Oswego and RE Ginna near Rochester.
Any of the five power plants could reduce their discharges by 15-20 times if they adopted the “best technology available” for power plant condenser cooling,
as described a state policy memo published in 2011.
But their antiquated, water-wasting “once-through” cooling systems are grandfathered. Requiring conversions to “closed-cycle” systems that recirculate cooling water would be a political challenge that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has shown no interest in tackling.HABSsignREADY
The will to act might be stronger if the science were more clear. Experts are still puzzled about the way several factors interact to trigger cyanobacteria outbreaks, which the DEC refers to as harmful algal blooms, or HABs.
Water temperature matters, but simply warming lake water doesn’t automatically cause a bloom. Other factors, including nutrient-rich water (with ample phosphorus and nitrogen), sunlight and calm conditions are at least as important. They all seem to work in complex, dimly-understood combination.
But enough is known that biochemist Gregory Boyer of SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, perhaps the region’s leading HABs expert, warned in a sworn affidavit in January against starting up the Greenidge power plant with once-though cooling, writing:GreenidgeREADY
“Increasing water temperatures in the Dresden bay area of Seneca Lake could result in increased HABs outbreaks in that area and … this issue deserves further study before (starting the plant).”
In court, the DEC fought to have Boyer’s affidavit “excluded” and to block efforts to require a full environmental impact statement for the Greenidge plant.
Together, the plant and the agency won a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and others seeking to force an EIS, and Greenidge was allowed to start up in the Spring.
HABs were first reported on Seneca Lake in 2015, and a few returned in 2016, including one near Dresden. This year all was calm on the HABs front until Sept. 14, when all hell began to break lose.HABsChronoREADY
During the following two weeks — characterized by unseasonably warm air temperatures (which warmed the lake water) — dozens of suspected blooms were reported across Seneca, particularly in the lake’s shallower north end.
Laboratory tests showed that at least two dozen Seneca sites had cyanobacteria with high levels of toxins, usually microcystins. The five sites with the highest toxins were all 4-10 miles from the point where Greenidge discharge waters flow into the lake.
“No one thing will generate a bloom by itself,” Boyer said in a recent email. “It is not unexpected that you would not get a HAB near Dresden if the water column stability, nutrient levels and sunlight were not in the right spot to support it.”
But he added that “warm water at Dresden could easily impact other parts of the lake.”
That’s less true for Lake Ontario because of its gigantic size, Boyer said. But shorelines and harbors like Sodus Bay — midway between the FitzPatrick and Ginna nuclear plants — are particularly vulnerable.FitzPatrickREADY
The FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Oswego is applying to the DEC to withdraw 787 million gallons a day from Lake Ontario, mostly to transfer heat from its condensers into the lake. Under its discharge permit, which expired in 2013, it can discharge water at temperatures up to 112 degrees, DEC records show.
About half a mile away, the Nine Mile nuclear plant is authorized to discharge up to 417 million gallons a day at temperatures up to 115 degrees.
The Ginna nuclear plant just east of Rochester is authorized to release up to 520 million gallons a day at up to 106 degrees.
This year HABs were reported at Wescott Beach about 20 miles northeast of the twin Oswego plants. In 2010, a cyanobacteria bloom in Sodus Bay forced beaches to close, triggering hotel cancellations that have reportedly stigmatized area tourism ever since.
On Lake Cayuga, AES Cayuga is authorized to release up to 245 million gallons a day at temperatures of up to 98 degrees under a state discharge permit that expired in 2014. (The DEC often allows companies to operate under expired permits if they have filed valid applications to renew.)
The frequency of the HABs reports on Cayuga this summer were unprecedented. Several beaches were forced to close for multiple days. High toxins were confirmed at at least one site more than 10 miles north of the power plant.
HABs first hit the national consciousness in the summer of 2014 when an outbreak on Lake Erie forced the city of Toledo to shut off its public water system, affecting 500,000 people.LisaClecknerReadyPDF
In the Finger lakes, reports of HABs grew steadily between 2012 and 2016, noted Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute in Geneva. “Moving forward to 2017, all of a sudden every single Finger Lake had an algal bloom and many had high toxins,” she said.
The most common type of cyanobacteria found in the Finger Lakes this year produces microcystis, a nerve and liver toxin. Exposure to it has been associated in scientific studies with irreversible neurological diseases, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Cyanobacteria blooms often look like green mats of harmless algae, but sometimes they appear as green speckles in calm water. Cyanobacteria are not algae, but the DEC has embraced the misnomer “harmful algal blooms” in an apparent effort to more effectively warn the public.
Direct contact with the toxins from swimming or breathing irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.
Dogs in particular are at risk because they are attracted to the toxins’ smell and can be poisoned by grooming after a swim. SUNY-ESF’s Boyer has said he strongly suspects that cyanobacteria caused the sudden death in 2016 of a dog that had been swimming at a Lake Ontario beach near Rochester.
To better document the growing HABs scourge, the DEC has been encouraging Finger Lakes citizens to monitor stretches of lake shoreline and report (with pictures and exact locations) suspected blooms. The most suspicious are sent to Cleckner’s lab in Geneva, Boyer’s lab in Syracuse and a state facility in Albany for tests.
Seneca and Owasco lakes have highly coordinated monitoring networks, but the other lakes lag behind.
The alarming rise in the frequency of HABs with high toxins — due in part to better reporting — has set off alarm bells for the thousands of lakeside property owners who draw water directly from the lakes or from shoreline wells.SyracuseReady
Plus, Rochester, Syracuse and dozens of smaller towns and villages draw their drinking water from the Finger Lakes. Their water treatment plants are being forced into action.
Syracuse, which draws from Skaneateles Lake, and the town of Auburn, which draws from Owasco Lake, detected toxins in their raw water this summer and are weighing measures to prevent it from reaching public drinking water in the future.
Auburn’s tap water was tainted in 2016, but no tap water drawn from a Finger Lake was found to be contaminated this year.
In response to Auburn’s public water crisis last year, the DEC formed the Finger Lakes Water Hub, a team that strives to understand the causes of cyanobacteria blooms in order to take steps to slow down their proliferation.
On its website, the DEC maintains an archive of HABs events in New York since 2012. The website also lists the causes of HABs as: “Excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), lots of sunlight, low-water or low-flow conditions, calm water, and warm temperatures.”
The agency doesn’t specify whether temperature refers to air or water.
Boyer and John Halfman, a scientist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, have placed more emphasis on water temperature.
“Surface water temperatures above 20 degree Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) are optimal for cyanobacteria to grow,” Boyer wrote.HalfmanREADY
Halfman, an expert on Seneca Lake water conditions who works with the Finger Lakes Institute, said blooms “are believed to prefer … warm water temperatures (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit).”
The DEC’s practice of routinely allowing electric power plants to use once-through cooling (OTC) was already under scrutiny before questions were raised about its potential contribution to the HABs crisis.
The environmental drawbacks of the outdated OTC technology — which involves sucking in vast quantities of lake or ocean water and returning it heated to the same water body — have been debated nationwide for decades.SierraClub
OTC systems kill millions of fish in various stages of their life cycle — so many that the Sierra Club has nicknamed them “fish blenders.” Once-through cooling systems also harm other plant and animal life and their ecosystems by disrupting normal water temperature patterns.
California is in the process of phasing out OTC as an acceptable cooling option for its power plants. That state prefers to see condenser water cooled in cooling towers or to see the old plants simply close down.EPA
In 2011, after years of contentious debate and foot-dragging, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, issued complex rules for all plants that withdraw more than 2 million gallons a day and use at least a quarter of it for cooling.
That same year, the DEC issued its policy statement, which stated that “closed-cycle cooling or the equivalent (is) the performance goal for the best technology available to minimize environmental impacts.”
Yet once-through cooling is still commonly allowed. That has led to lawsuits against the DEC over its condenser cooling and water withdrawal policies.
In a case now pending in a state appeals court in New York City, the Sierra Club argues that the DEC should have applied conditions to the water withdrawal permit it granted to the East River Generating Station in Manhattan.DEC
The DEC claims that its hands are tied by the law, which states that the agency “shall issue an initial permit, subject to appropriate terms and conditions as required under this article, … for the maximum [water withdrawal] capacity reported …”
The DEC says the word “shall” is “non-negotiable, it is a command” to issue the withdrawal permit for East River’s previous maximum of 373 million gallons a day.
The Sierra Club counters that granting the permit does not preclude conditions promoting “water conservation measures.”
A state Supreme Court judge sided with the DEC, prompting the Sierra Club’s current appeal. The Sierra Club also appealed the DEC’s lower court victory in the Greenidge case.
The DEC declined to answer a series of emailed questions I posed on whether the industrial use of once-through cooling might promote cyanobacteria blooms. Agency spokeswoman Erica Ringewald cited pending litigation.
But a senior scientist at the DEC recently dismissed the likelihood that power plant hot water discharges could be part of the problem.McCaffreyREADY
At a public forum on HABs in Geneva Oct. 26, Lewis McCaffrey was asked by a member of the forum audience to comment on the possible effect of Greenidge in particular.
“There’s a really powerful factor that’s heating up the lake in the summer, and that’s obviously the sun,” said McCaffrey, a staff member of the Finger Lakes Water Hub. “So how much (lake water warming caused by) the industrial uses of the lake are compared to the sun heating it up, I really don’t know, but I would probably say it’s insignificant.
“No concerns have been raised to me about the lake being warmed up particularly by those industries.”

Gaggles of Geese Gall Golisano

CulpritsREADYsNo one’s crazy about goose poop.
Gripes from entitled billionaires are no fun either.
Just ask the nurse from Canandaigua who scolded Paycheck founder Tom Golisano in a scathing opinion column published today in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper.
Golisano is refusing to pay the $90,000 he owes in school taxes on his vacation home on Lake Canandaigua because the local officials won’t take measures to keep the geese — and their poop — off his lawn that extends graciously down to the waterline.
But Alice DeMallie would have none of it.GolisanoREADY
“I believe his actual problems are of his own making: a lifestyle of excess, poor environmental stewardship, and absentee property ownership,” she opined.
“He chose to impose the misguided aesthetic of a large manicured lawn on our lakefront,” DeMallie added. “In addition to attracting the geese he despises more than would a natural, wooded shore, his choice contributes to accelerated erosion.”
Golisano called a press conference last month to vent about the geese that he says are destroying the value of his 2,900-square foot house in South Bristol. The property has 850 feet of lake frontage, and its annual taxes are a whopping $132,000.
He argues that local government has a responsibility to protect his investment. “We are not talking about a few geese who occasionally land for lunch,” he said. “We are talking about up to 200 geese at a time that refuse to leave.”
Golisano, 75, has a net worth of $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. He is a former unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor. He has an internationally famous younger wife — former world No. 1 tennis star Monica Seles, 43. And he’s conspicuously generous, having pledged at least $20 million to the University of Rochester’s Golisano Children’s Hospital.DeMallieREADY
But he doesn’t like feeling short-changed, and he’s not shy about going to the mat when his sense of outrage boils over.
He’s sued and won reductions in property taxes on his home in Mendon, and he’s currently suing decorators on his 247-yacht Laurel for $400,000 in refunds on a $845,000 bill.
In the case of the Canandaiguan geese, he’s angry because as a Florida resident he doesn’t have a vote in elections of local officials who could crack down for him.Laurel READY
DeMallie can’t dredge up much sympathy. “A vote is about participating in the life of a community, not buying a say,” she wrote in her Nov. 11 column. “It is hard to listen with a straight face to any argument that in our democracy today someone of his wealth has too little say.
“Golisano should accept the choices he has made and pay his bills.”

 

UPDATES: The Seneca Meadows Election; LPG Ruling Nears; The CPV Pipeline Showdown

Seneca Meadows

A law that requires the state’s largest landfill to close in 2025 is on much firmer ground after two Democrats were easily elected Nov. 7 to the five-member Seneca Falls Town Board.AveryREADY
Incumbent Dave DeLelys and Doug Avery campaigned as DeLelysREADYsupporters of Local Law 3, which set the mandatory closing date for Seneca Meadows Inc. They defeated Republicans Tom Ruzicka and Steve Turkett, who had opposed it. Local pre-election mailings with the Seneca Meadows’ logo warned that retaining the law would trigger a 300% tax increase. The flyers didn’t name candidates.
After the election results were clear, Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro said he would no longer pursue efforts to repeal Local Law 3. “Elections have consequences,” Lazzaro said at a FingerLakes1.com Election Night Special.
Lazzaro and incumbent Lou Ferrara had voted in May to rescind the law, but a state Supreme Court Judge reinstated it, leaving the measure’s fate in the hands of voters. The board’s fifth member, Vic Porretta, has supported the law.FlyerREADY
DeLelys said in an interview Thursday that the new board must now wrestle with budget issues and a possible local property tax hike. He said he would oppose Lazzaro’s “crazy” proposed rate increase from $3.61 to $6.09 per $1,000 in assessed value, which DeLelys interpreted as a tactic coordinated with the landfill flyers aimed at scaring voters.
“The landfill flyers almost seemed to have backfired on them,” DeLelys said. “People are wising up, I think.”

Crestwood LPG

Meanwhile, at the other end of Seneca Lake, the Cuomo Administration is edging closer to a final decision on an eight-year-old application for a state permit to store liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, in unlined salt caverns 2.5 miles north of Watkins Glen.
An administrative law judge who’s had charge of the case since early 2015 wrapped up his work Nov. 6 and the voluminous case record is now complete.READYSeggos
Final appeals are due Nov. 15, and answers to those appeals are due Dec. 15.
A final ruling that either approves or denies a storage permit could come by yearend from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top environmental regulator, Basil Seggos.
Houston-based Crestwood Equity Partners LP seeks permission to store highly explosive liquid propane in geologically fragile caverns on its U.S. Salt property in the town of Reading, just north of Watkins Glen.
On Oct. 31, Crestwood announced an agreement to sell the salt refining operation at U.S. Salt to the Kissner Group, a midwestern salt company. Crestwood later said the deal excludes the caverns and property needed to continue its existing natural gas storage and to develop LPG storage.
The LPG permit application, filed by predecessor company in 2009, flew under the public radar for more than a year before erupting into the hottest environmental controversy in the Finger Lakes region since fracking was banned statewide in 2014.READYCrestwoodProtestorsREADY
Several hundred anti-LPG protestors have been arrested for trespassing at the Crestwood property, and hundreds of winery and tourism businesses have lined up in opposition.
Wine industry leaders — fearing that a catastrophic cavern breach could damage the Finger Lakes’ reputation as an up-and-coming wine region — have made repeated trips to Albany to lobby Cuomo and Seggos.
On their latest trip to the capital on Nov. 1 they argued that the project was both dangerous and unnecessary. They pointed to Crestwood’s new propane rail terminal in the Hudson Valley, which the company recently described as “sufficient to serve the entire northeast in the coldest winter.” And they noted recent permits Crestwood has obtained to expand LPG storage in Savona, less than 25 miles from the U.S. Salt site.
The staff of the state Department of Environmental Conservation recently urged James McClymonds, the administrative law judge, to exclude information on the new rail depot and the Savona expansion from the record in Crestwood’s case.READYMcClymondsREADY
But in his Nov. 6 ruling, McClymonds chose to include it for Seggos and Cuomo because the law requires consideration of both “the ‘no action’ alternative” to granting the permit and the project’s “purpose, public need and benefits.”
McClymonds has ordered the DEC staff to rework its 2014 draft LPG storage permit  to address a series of changes to the original plan, including the pending sale of U.S. Salt.
Crestwood, through its Finger Lakes LPG Storage subsidiary, has scaled back its original plan, eliminating a proposed giant brine pond, cancelling a planned truck-rail depot and cutting out liquid butane storage.
But the project has always included the use of brine from the salt refining operation at U.S. Salt. The company has been stingy with details about how that crucial arrangement would work after U.S. Salt is sold.
But McClymonds provided some hints in his Nov. 6 ruling. He noted that U.S.Salt “conveyed by deed” to Finger Lakes LPG Storage the relevant storage caverns in 2011. He added that Crestwood also “asserts that it retains the right to install over U.S. Salt’s property the water, brine, and product pipelines that are part of the (LPG storage) project. Applicant also retains the ability to send brine to and obtain brine from U.S. Salt if needed.”

CPV Pipeline Showdown

An emergency stay by a federal appeals court that blocks construction on a Hudson Valley pipeline project adds to the drama of the standoff between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Trump over natural gas pipeline development in New York State.JamesCromwell READY
Earlier this year, Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality permit to the Millennium Pipeline for a 7.8-mile spur pipeline to the new Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) power plant in Wawayanda.
But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, under its newly Trump-appointed chairman Neil Chatterjee, claimed the DEC’s denial was invalid because it took too long to rule. The DEC asked FERC for a rehearing, noting that a federal appeals court was sympathetic to its argument.ChatterjeeRead2
Instead of granting the rehearing, a FERC official issued the a notice to proceed with construction. That action prompted the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York to grant the DEC’s request for an emergency stay to block construction, pending resolution of the court dispute.PramillaREADY
“FERC routinely violates the 14th Amendment rights of citizens,” said activist Pramilla Malick of Protect Orange County, “but this is the first time they’ve ever violated the due process rights of a state.”
The outcome of the CPV case could set a precedent for two other longer projects— the Constitution Pipeline and the Northern Access Pipeline — that have also been denied water quality permits by the DEC — in each case over permit applicants’ failure to adequately review the projects’ impact on climate.

Will Seneca Meadows Close in 2025? Check Nov. 7 Election Results

The state’s largest landfill is battling local efforts to force its closing in 2025, and its chances of success may hinge on the outcome of the Nov. 7 election to fill two seats on the five-member Seneca Falls Town Board.FlyerREADY
Of the four candidates vying for the two open spots, two are committed to closing Seneca Meadows Inc. in eight years, while two are not.
Even as foul landfill odors continue to waft over the community, unsolicited mailings warn potential voters that they’ll face a 300% tax increase if they turn their backs on Seneca Meadows.
“Call the Town Board,” says one flyer that bears the landfill’s logo. “Tell them none of us can afford a 300% tax increase. Not now. Not ever. Rescind Local Law 3 now!”
Another says: “A 300% tax hike would decimate families, destroy the local economy …”
The flyers don’t refer to candidates by name, nor do they mention the potential 2025 landfill closing date. Instead they target Local Law 3, which mandates that Seneca Meadows shut down by the end of that year.
Local Law 3 rests on uneven footing. It was passed on Dec. 6, 2016 by a seemingly decisive 4-1 vote, but two of the ‘yes’ votes were lame duck board members who had lost elections the month before to Republicans Lou Ferrara and Tom Ruzicka.
In May, Ferrara and Ruzicka joined Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro in voting for a new law repealing Local Law 3 and allowing the landfill to continue operating beyond Dec. 31, 2025.RuzickaREADY
But that new law was vacated by a state Supreme Court Judge in September on the grounds that the board’s 3-2 majority failed to take a legally required “hard look” at the environmental consequences of extending the landfill’s lifetime. That action put Local Law 3 back in force again.
Amid the helter-skelter local politics, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was being flooded with complaints that odors from Seneca Meadows were persistently out of control — in violation of local ordinances, state law and the host agreement between the town and the landfill. Dozens of local residents spilled out their gripes at public hearings DEC officials held over two days in August.
The DEC has been allowing the landfill to operate under an air quality permit that expired in 2012. The agency says that’s OK because the landfill has applied for a renewal and the DEC is working on it. The DEC also delegates to Seneca Meadows the duty of responding to air quality complaints even as the landfill tries to cover up the unpleasant stench with grape-flavored air freshener.
Many who complained at the hearings in August urged the DEC not to grant Seneca Meadows its request for a 10-year extension of its state permit to accept 6,000 tons of waste per day at its 898-acre site (360 acres actively used) on Route 414 just west of Seneca Falls.
On Oct. 31, the DEC heeded their cries, limiting the landfill’s operating permit to eight years and putting it in synch with Local Law 3’s mandatory closing date of 2025.AveryREADY
“It was a small victory for (landfill opponents) because the standard extension would have been 10 years,” said Doug Avery, a Democratic candidate for the Town Board. The eight-year extension “brings the state permit in line with the host agreement and Local Law 3.”
Candidates Avery and incumbent Democrat Dave DeLelys support Local Law 3. Republican incumbent Ruzicka opposes it, and Republican candidate Steve Turkett, a former town code enforcement officer, appears to lean against it.
“We do not need to send a message that the town is not open for business and will enact local laws to force business closures and discourage new startups,” Turkett told the Finger Lakes Times.
The current Town Board is in favor of overturning Local Law 3, even if its efforts to do so were slapped down by a judge. Supervisor Lazzaro, Ferrara and Ruzicka voted in April to rescind Local Law 3.TurkettREADY
If either Ruzicka or Turkett win Tuesday, Avery and DeLelys presume the Town Board will try again to repeal the law and its 2025 landfill closure date.
But if both Democratic candidates are elected, they hope to team with Republican Vic Porretta, who voted for Local Law 3, to keep it in force.
Lazzaro and Ferrara have underscored the economic importance of the landfill and its host agreement with the town, which provides 20% or more of the town’s $12 million budget.
Under the host agreement, the landfill pays the town 5.5% of its annual net revenue. The town had budgeted $2.3 million for 2017. But in at a Town Board meeting February, landfill manager Kyle Black presented the town a check for $3.016 million.
Black told the board at that meeting that the landfill had already spent $7.5 million on odor mitigation and expected that total to rise to as much as $13 million, the Finger Lakes Times reported.
Even so, then-town attorney Patrick Morrell urged the Town Board not to issue a renewal of its annual zoning permit for the landfill, pending the adopting of a formal odor control plan.
Morrell later resigned under pressure from Lazzaro and Ferrara.
Lazzaro declined to be interviewed for this article.
According to DeLelys, Lazzaro recently proposed raising property tax rates from $3.61 to $6.09 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 69% increase.DeLelysREADY
DeLelys said he opposes any such increase. He’s confident the town can gradually cut out from its budget the money received from the landfill host agreement, based on his talks with town department heads.
“We have eight more years to wean ourselves from the host agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DEC is working to address complaints that landfill air emissions include hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and dust.
The agency said in its Oct. 31 ruling that when the long-expired air quality permit is eventually renewed it will contain specific limits for some of those emissions. That renewal is still months away, but the DEC said the opening of a public comment period on a proposed renewal air permit “is expected soon.”
Also coming soon:
— A court hearing, repeatedly postponed, will address DeLelys’ assault allegations against Ruzicka, sitting Town Board members on opposite sides of the fence on Local Law 3. Ruzicka has pled not guilty concerning an incident at a restaurant hours after the board voted to rescind the law in May. DeLelys alleges that Ruzicka rose from a bar stool when DeLelys and his wife were passing and grabbed him by the shirt.
— Draining a Seneca Falls wastewater treatment tank that receives hazardous leachate from Seneca Meadows. The DEC reported Oct. 30 that the tank was continuously leaking at the rate of 30 gallons per minute.
— The state Comptroller’s Office has accepted invitations from local residents, journalists and Ferrara, among others, to probe Seneca Falls’ finances and operations, according to Ferrara.
But first, the election.Flyer2READY

 

 

Crestwood Will Retain Rights to Store Gas and LPG After Planned $225M Sale of U.S. Salt

{THIS STORY WAS UPDATED AT 2:30 p.m. Oct. 31. An earlier version incorrectly stated that Crestwood was abandoning it’s natural gas and LPG storage interests at the site}

Crestwood Equity Partners LP announced today that it will sell its U.S. Salt subsidiary near Watkins Glen to an affiliate of Kissner Group Holdings LP for $225 million, but it will preserve its rights to store natural gas and liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, in abandoned salt caverns on adjacent property.
UnknownCrestwood announced its plans to hold on to the hydrocarbon storage caverns in a statement issued this afternoon. It’s initial press release earlier in the day did not mention its plans to retain the storage interests.

“Crestwood has preserved its rights to store natural gas and natural gas liquids through its ownership of Arlington Storage Co. LLC and Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC, which were not include in the sale,” the company said in a statement emailed by Elizabeth Suman, Crestwood’s communications manager, at 1:58 p.m. “This will allow Crestwood the ability to provide low-cost storage services benefitting the New York market.”
U.S. Salt, one of the nation’s largest solution mining companies, will continue to operate under its own name as a Kissner subsidiary, and its salt refinery will remain fully operational, the new owners said in a press release.
Kissner, which is based in Kansas, is a salt company that serves Great Lakes and midwest markets.Unknown-2
Neither Kissner nor Crestwood commented initially on what would become of Crestwood’s existing natural gas storage at the site, or its controversial efforts to obtain a state permit to store liquid propane there.
Kissner is owned by Metalmark Capital Holdings LLC, a private equity firm based in New York City that has invested more than $7 billion in a broad range of businesses, including healthcare, industrials, agribusiness and energy.
On its website, Metalmark cites investments in a group of oil and gas exploration and production companies.Unknown-1
Kissner did not return phone calls. A spokesman for Metalmark accepted questions about the transaction but had not responded with answers by mid-afternoon.
Houston-based Crestwood obtained U.S. Salt in 2013 as part of its acquisition of Kansas City-based Inergy LP. That merger combined two “midstream” energy companies involved in energy storage and transportation.
Inergy had purchased U.S. Salt for an undisclosed amount in 2008, the early days of the Marcellus shale natural gas boom. At the time, Inergy announced plans to spend $191 million in developing 5 billion cubic feet of storage capacity in the unlined abandoned salt caverns at the U.S. Salt property next to Seneca Lake about two miles north of Watkins Glen.USSaltpdf
Salt mining had never been a core business for either Inergy or Crestwood, both of whom purchased the property primarily for its energy storage potential.
Both companies have stored natural gas at the site, but neither was able to obtain a state permit to store LPG there.

Unknown-1“The divestiture of US Salt is part of Crestwood’s ongoing strategy to optimize its diverse portfolio of traditional midstream assets, identify non-core assets, and redeploy sales proceeds to high growth capital investments in the Bakken and Delaware Basin,” Crestwood added in its afternoon statement.

Suman explained that the follow-up statement was issued in response to questions about the sale of U.S. Salt.
Efforts to obtain that state license for LPG storage, which began shortly after Inergy’s 2008 purchase, touched off widespread opposition locally and throughout the region from dozens of wine and tourism business and several local towns and counties.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a draft permit for the LPG storage, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet made a final decision.

 

Where Eagles Dare: Watkins Glen Treatment Plant Back on Fast Track

A proposed $30 million wastewater treatment plant in Watkins Glen has cleared its biggest environmental and financial hurdles and is now back on track to begin operating by mid-2019.KarenMapREADY
The new facility on the canal linking Watkins Glen and Montour Falls will serve both villages, replacing their existing antiquated treatment plants and freeing up valuable real estate on Seneca Lake’s southern shore.
Aside from its role in improving water quality at the southern end of the lake, the new sewage treatment facility is seen as key to Watkins Glen’s ambitious revitalization plans.JudyCherryREADY
“The wastewater plant is the cornerstone for all economic activity in and around Schuyler County — residential, commercial and industrial,” said Judy Cherry, executive director of Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development. “It is vital.”
Cherry is also co-chair of a Downtown Revitalization Initiative for Watkins Glen that recently won a $10 million state grant. Figuring out how to best reuse the current wastewater plant’s 1.35-acre site is a primary goal of the DRI.
The new plant will be built about 3,000 feet south of the lake on the canal’s east side. Its 8.6-acre site sits on the border of the Queen Catharine Wildlife Management Area, a specially-protected marshland.
Early on, the project hit a serious roadblock when a pair of eagles were found to be nesting nearby.
In response, local officials built an optional new nest for the eagles at the southern end of the marsh. While the eagles haven’t swapped nests, they have begun defending the new nest from ospreys and other potential competitors, according to John King, mayor of Montour Falls.
In addition, plant developers have bought for preservation a private 20-acre parcel south of Owasco Lake where another pair of eagles now nest.
They also agreed to refrain from any noisy construction work at the plant site before Oct. 1 to respect the breeding season of endangered long-eared bats.
After those and other mitigation steps were taken, state Department of Environmental Conservation on Oct. 13 awarded the proposed treatment plant all five of its necessary permits.
Meanwhile, the first round of contract bidding for the project — bids were advertised in April and opened in June — didn’t go according to plan, forcing design changes and a new round of bidding.JohnKingREADY
“The bids came back $6 million high,” said King, chair of a joint wastewater committee made up of officials from both villages. “So we put together a plan to cut $3 million from the design and we applied for $3 million in additional grant money.”
The main money-saving design change involves the elimination of pile-driving, which came to be seen as too expensive, noisy and time-sensitive. Because of the eagles, pile-driving would have been restricted to a three-month period beginning in October. Missing that late-Fall window would have meant delaying the project for an entire year.
Instead, fill material will be brought to the construction site and compressed to provide stability and raise the surface elevation four feet for flood protection, said project manager Rick Weakland.
Switching from pile-driving to compressed fill is expected to cut at least $2.5 million in costs, King and Weakland said. The precise amount of savings won’t be known until bids are opened and accepted.WeaklandReady
Advertisements for new bids on the site plan were published earlier this month. They will be opened Nov. 1.
Ads for separate bids on plant construction are expected to be published in December and opened in January. Ads for bids on forced main sewer lines and pump stations will go out in the spring, King said.
“So we’ve conquered the eagle issue. We conquered the long-eared bat issue. When we open the latest bids, we hope to have conquered the budget issue,” he added. “And we’ve moved the scheduled startup back to mid-2019.”
The disappointingly high first-round bids prompted project planners to turn to engineers at Haley Aldrich, Barton & Loguidice and the Larson Design Group to look for design savings. Those consultations led to the decision to scrap pile-driving in favor of compressed fill, Weakland said.
The project will be financed by a combination of state grants and loans. That includes more than $18 million in loans from the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. In addition to $7 million of grants in hand, project planners have applied this year for an additional $2.5 million grant from the state Water Quality Improvement Project.
Modernizing sewage treatment in Watkins Glen is expected to benefit water quality at the southern end of Seneca Lake. The current plant is antiquated, and it has repeatedly failed to meet required standards for discharges into the lake, leading to state fines in 2012 and 2014.
Switching to a more modern facility on the canal will cut the amounts of phosphorus, chlorine and other pollutants poured into the lake. And it will greatly increase the distance between the discharge pipe at the plant and the intake pipe for Watkins Glen’s public drinking water system on Salt Point Road, only a half mile away.
“Historically, water has always been the lifeblood of this community,” Cherry said. “Seneca Lake has to be kept healthy.”ReuseREADY
Cherry’s downtown revitalization initiative is weighing a variety of options for redevelopment of the old site. One possibility would include apartments or condos, a restaurant, a swimming pool and a theater.
The sewage modernization project will come at a price, King acknowledged. He noted that Montour Fall’s sewage rates have been rising steadily and will continue to rise to fund the new plant’s construction and operation.
In Watkins Glen, average sewer rates have risen about 70 percent since 2010. Effective in July, the minimum charge (for 0-2,250 gallons) was $22.75, up from $13.26 in 2010, a 71.6% increase.
Despite that upward trend, King said he did not expect sewer charges for either jurisdiction to rise above state averages.
Not everyone is satisfied that state and local officials sufficiently addressed environmental issues raised by the decision to build the plant in the marsh area, which Schuyler County had designated in 2010 as a state “Critical Environmental Area,” or CEA.
“It is the wrong place for such a plant and I abhor the methods used to pick that site,” said John Gregoire, an ornithologist in Burdett. “Politics and cronyism appear to have trumped science.”QCWmapREADY
In January 2015, Watkins Glen trustees voted unanimously for a resolution declaring “the project will result in no significant adverse impacts on the environment.”
That so-called “negative declaration” meant developers could skip a full environmental impact statement, which includes public proceedings. Instead, the village prepared a less rigorous “environmental assessment form” with limited or no public participation.
Under DEC rules, Critical Environmental Areas require special treatment: “All actions of any state and local agency that affect a designated CEA area do require careful reasoned documentation and explanations regarding the impact on an area of important environmental concern.”
Village officials said that “field studies” at the site showed that the project would not hurt populations of “least bittern, pied-billed grebe, long-tailed salamander, marsh horsetail, nodding wild onion …” and other species.
Gregoire said he was never consulted in that analysis despite his role as principle author of the environmental section in Schuyler County’s Comprehensive Plan.
But DEC officials concluded that the village’s “negative declaration” was valid, and the agency endorsed its “field study” analysis when it granted the project all necessary permits.

 

CUOMO vs. TRUMP: The Great New York State Pipeline Battle

The fate of natural gas pipeline development in New York State hangs in the balance of a impending legal showdown that can be boiled down to Cuomo versus Trump.CuomoReady
Late Friday, in a bid to preserve his state’s right to weigh in on water quality issues raised by pipelines planned within New York’s borders, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s regulators filed a last-minute appeal to federal regulators over a 7.8-mile Millennium Pipeline spur in the Hudson Valley.
That short line, known as the Valley Lateral Project, would link the main Millennium line to Competitive Power Venture’s nearly completed 650-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Wawayanda 70 miles northwest of New York City.SpurPipelineMapReady
The outcome of the battle over the CPV plant’s spur line figures to have major implications for two much larger pipeline projects: the 124-mile Constitution Pipeline, with about 100 miles inside central New York, and the Northern Access Pipeline, which would cover a similar distance in far western New York.
In all three cases, Cuomo’s regulators at the Department of Environmental Conservation have denied a water quality permits under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, frustrating energy industry backers who were already incensed by Cuomo’s 2014 executive order banning fracking statewide.
The pipelines are looking to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to overturn those three state denials.TrumpREADYChatterjeemugReady
They appear to have found a champion in FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in May and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August. Chatterjee, a Kentucky native, is a former aide to Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
On Sept. 15, only six weeks after Chatterjee’s Senate confirmation, FERC issued a declaratory order stating that New York had waived its right to deny the water quality permit because it failed to do so within one year of the filing date of Millennium’s permit application.ConstitutionReady
On Oct. 11, the Constitution Pipeline petitioned FERC for a similar order on the same grounds. The CEO of National Fuel, owner of the Northern Access project, had asked for the same treatment in a letter to FERC several weeks earlier.
Last week several environmental groups pressed Cuomo to file an appeal in the Millennium/CPV spur case, including the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, and the Sierra Club.
In that appeal, Cuomo asked FERC for a rehearing on its order and a stay on pipeline development pending the resolution of all appeals.NorthernAccessReady
The legal issue in question is the definition of the one-year time limit the Clean Water Act allows for states to rule on permit applications. Does the one-year time period begin on the date a pipeline applicant files an application or on the date the state deems such an application sufficient?
In fact, either side could potentially game the system — the pipeline by filing a grossly inadequate application and the state by constantly requiring new information in a bid to delay far beyond one year.
FERC cited the second potential threat in its Sept. 15 order.
“By failing to act on Millennium’s request for certification by November 23, 2016, we find that the (state) agency waived its certification authority,” FERC held. “To find otherwise would frustrate the purpose of the one-year review period … and allow state agencies to indefinitely delay proceedings by determining applications to be incomplete.”
But the DEC in its appeal said the opposite problem applies. “Indeed, in this case, Millennium submitted a letter and affidavit demanding that the permit be granted, along with more than 200 pages of exhibits, a mere eight days before the one-year anniversary of its initial application submittal,” the appeal said.
The Clean Water Act itself is ambiguous, the DEC argues. It doesn’t specify whether a permit application needs to be valid in the eyes of the state or not in order to trigger the one-year decision period.
Finally, the New York appeal concludes, “Because the (DEC) is charged with determining whether to issue the (water quality permit) for the project, it — not FERC — is the appropriate agency to interpret any ambiguous terms of the (Clean Water Act),” the appeal says.
A ruling in August by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York seems to tilt toward Cuomo on that point.cropped-constitution_header
The Constitution Pipeline had asked the panel to declare New York’s denial of the water quality permit arbitrary and capricious. The panel declined to do so, writing:
“Relevant federal statutes entitled DEC to conduct its own review of the Constitution project’s likely effects on New York waterbodies and whether those effects would comply with the state’s water quality standards,” the court said. “We conclude that the denial of the Section 401 certification after Constitution refused to provide relevant information, despite repeated DEC requests, was not arbitrary or capricious.”
For those favoring aggressive natural gas development in New York, Cuomo’s stance on the pipelines — after his December 2014 executive order banning fracking statewide –adds insult to injury.
In an April 25, 2017 letter to President Trump, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, a pro-fracking group determined to cash in on their mineral rights, vented its frustrations and pled for help.FitzsimmonsREADY
“The Cuomo administration’s (fracking ban) decision was heavily influenced by a network of well-funded environmentally active foundations and anti-fracking groups,” JLCNY president Daniel Fitzsimmons wrote Trump.
“New York is so controlled by environmental extremists,” the letter continued, “that our state cannot even approve basic pipeline infrastructure necessary to supply natural gas to New York communities that currently rely on propane and oil. New York has also impeded interstate commerce by obstructing the transportation of natural gas from Pennsylvania and to New England states.”
Fitzsimmons went on to cite the DEC’s denial of water permits for the Millennium/CPV spur, Constitution and Northern Access pipeline projects.
“Our governor’s anti-fossil fuel campaign is creating an energy crisis in our region,” the JLCNY letter said. “We believe the federal government must assert its rights over federally approved pipeline projects …
“As you know, our landowners in upstate New York gave you overwhelming support in the (November 2016) election. We believe you understand the plight of our upstate communities and are aligned with us on a common sense, all-of-the-above energy policy…. Thank you for all that you are doing to Make America Great Again.”