In recent weeks, Crestwood has developed practical alternatives to its plan to store LPG in unlined caverns next to Seneca Lake — undercutting any public benefit from the long-stalled cavern storage project, a coalition of Finger Lakes wine and tourism businesses argue in an Oct. 10 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
On Aug. 30, the Texas company opened what it said “is believed to be the largest propane rail terminal in the United States” in the Hudson Valley town of Montgomery.
“It’s strategic location will support (propane) marketers’ No. 1 goal of delivering quality product year ‘round to businesses and homeowners throughout the Northeast,” Crestwood said in a recent press release.
Meanwhile, the company won federal approval Sept. 1 to expand its liquid petroleum gas (LPG) storage in caverns in Savona, only 20 miles southwest of its proposed Seneca Lake cavern storage project in Reading.
Combined, the rail-truck facility in Montgomery, 70 miles north of New York City, and the new LPG storage capacity in Savona represent “a reasonable and feasible alternative to Crestwood’s proposal for Seneca Lake,” the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and the anti-LPG group Gas Free Seneca wrote to Cuomo.
“If the (Seneca Lake) project is not built, no one will be the worse off,” the letter said. “The public will not suffer one iota.”
Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice, an attorney for Gas Free Seneca, made a similar argument in an Oct. 6 letter to James McClymonds, an administrate law judge with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. McClymonds has been studying the Seneca Lake storage permit application for nearly three years. He recently recommended that DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos not call for further adjudication of major disputes in the case. McClymonds did ask for clarification on the Savona property, and Crestwood responded in a Sept. 22 letter that omitted any reference to expansion plans there.
But Goldberg noted that the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, mandates consideration of possible options to any proposed development — including the “no-action” option.
“The Commissioner (Seggos) must consider the availability of the less damaging alternative presented by an expanded facility at Savona, especially when coupled with Crestwood’s control over propane for the Montgomery facility,” Goldberg wrote the judge. “These two alternatives to the (Seneca Lake LPG storage) project may not be ignored,” she said.
But a DEC attorney now argues that it is Goldberg’s letter that must be ignored.
The Goldberg document and others referring to Crestwood’s new Montgomery rail facility and additional Savona LPG storage should be stricken from the record that Seggos considers when making a final decision on the Crestwood permit, according to Lisa Schwartz, an assistant regional attorney in the DEC’s Region 8 offices in Avon. Even raising the issue is “completely unauthorized,” Schwartz wrote in an Oct. 11 letter to McClymonds.
Finger Lakes LPG Storage first applied to the DEC for an underground storage permit in 2009 when it was owned by Kansas City-based Inergy LP. Houston-based Crestwood Equity Partners LP later acquired Inergy, inheriting the project.
Initially, the plan was to store both liquid propane and liquid butane in the Seneca caverns. The project also included a major rail-truck facility in Reading, as well as a massive brine pond on a hill above Seneca Lake.
Crestwood had touted the project as a way to deliver propane to Finger Lakes markets by truck, ensuring local supply and cutting local prices.
But those promises no longer apply, given that the company has eliminated the rail-truck facility in Reading. In fact, much of the LPG stored in the Seneca Lake caverns would actually be transferred by pipeline to other states.
In the face of overwhelming regional opposition, Crestwood also significantly reduced the size of the brine pond and repositioned it in a less precarious spot.
Later on it eliminated all butane storage.
But opposition to even the scaled-back Seneca LPG storage plan has not receded.
In fact, nearly 500 Finger Lakes businesses are named signatories in the Oct. 10 letter to Cuomo. In addition 32 municipalities, including the cities of Syracuse, Rochester, Geneva, Ithaca and the Village of Watkins Glen oppose the project.
“Given your strong support of wine and tourism in the Finger Lakes region and your promise to reduce the use of climate damaging fossil fuels, we urge you to side with the people of the Seneca Lake community, not a Texas gas corporation,” the businesses said in their letter to Cuomo.
“The Finger Lakes is a national treasure, the only wine region in the world identifiable from space, and it should be preserved and protected, not sacrificed as a convenient dump for LPG,” the letter added. “We trust that you will work with DEC Commissioner Seggos on a denial of the permit to avoid the potentially devastating impacts of this ill-conceived project, including its threat to your economic development and clean energy efforts.”