October 1, 2011

Whirlwind trip to upstate New York leaves many tales to tell

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The trip to upstate New York was planned to be fast and relatively fun-filled.

It was fast, there was some fun, and it was filled. Really filled.

After careening across the United States Monday night, I arrived at the Syracuse NY airport (after a plane change at JFK) Tuesday noon, tired, more than a little grumpy but ready to charge into the Department of Environmental Conservation's hearing on a proposal to build a huge propane and natural gas storage depot three miles from my house.
With Cousin Roger and The Cube

I felt like a foreign correspondent, parachuting in to cover a story, at least until the rental car agency told me the only car they had available for me to take was the one pictured to the right.

The Nissan Cube is not exactly what Robert Redford was driving in the 2001 film, Spy Game, in which he starred with Brad Pitt. But I've lost my claims to bearing any resemblance to either of those guys so I suppose I should be happy that I could bomb around Watkins without much fear of getting a ticket in that blue roller skate.

The propane and natural gas storage project is about as bad an idea as I have heard in years, right on a par with when some bright light got the idea in the 1970s that it would be a good idea to store spent nuclear reactor fuel rods in the same salt caverns.


Sometimes, I do believe the world is run by greedy idiots.

Here's a link to a video with all the testimonyDEC public hearing in Watkins Glen, NY 

The hearing went well (for opponents, not so much for the company) and formed the basis for my Finger Lakes Times column Friday. Writing Wednesday morning, I fell asleep at the keyboard once, revived only by several cups of Earl Grey tea, each brewed with three tea bags.

I was up until about 2 a.m. Wednesday night, of course. Despite two glasses of wine with amiga Amanda at dinner and a hefty double slug of Grey Goose about midnight while writing some screed, I still had the energy of an adolescent.

Inergy's gas man
Perhaps the most interesting thing in the hearing was that it wasn't just that the people who spoke against the project were articulate (most were), prepared (ditto) and passionate (all were). They clearly are beginning to form ideas about what they want to see the area become, not just be in opposition to this disaster-in-waiting.

More than one person made it clear: we don't need or want more smokestack industries.

The balance of the trip - two days and some change - was taken up with domestic chores like running to the bank, dealing with an impressive stack of mail and lots of conversations with the folks who are opposing this project.

Oct. 10 is the last day to comment and there is a flurry of activity going on to ensure that the DEC hears from everyone about the flaws in the environmental impact report filed by the company, Inergy Midstream from Kansas City, Missouri.

Among the many flaws are issues related to earthquakes, lack of a plan for emergencies and the idea of building a 91-million gallon salt water pond with plastic liners (think industrial swimming pool liners). The pond will be perched on a hillside, just  2,500 feet above decidely freshwater Seneca Lake, and very close to the water intakes for the Watkins Glen Village water supply.

That pond, by the way, will contain water up to 12 times saltier than normal sea water, plus, it will likely have a few surprise chemicals lurking it in from being pumped in and out of the salt caverns as part of the propane storage method.

I suppose if the project is approved and the pond is built, when it has a catastrophic breach and the 91 million gallons goes cascading down the hillside to the lake, we could plant some marlin and other saltwater sports fish in the lake and see if they survived. And Watkins Glen homes? Well, perhaps the village can get a federal grant for a desalinization plant - run on propane, of course.

In the meantime, while the follicle-impaired president of Inergy Midstream (above) licks his wounds in Kansas City, Missouri, (after having his testimony contradicted by experts), he is likely remembering that when he testified, nearly 800 people in the audience suggested (some politely, some not so) that he could take his propane tanks, trucks, railroad cars and everything else he has planned for the 576-acre site and return it to, well, just about anyplace but the Town of Reading.

LINKS to stories about hearing:
Elmira Star-Gazette
The Observer newspaper

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