BY CHERYL SLAVIN
On Monday night a standing room only crowd of about 250 people at the Stony Point Center attended a public hearing conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking public comment about the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) power line and the plans to lay it overland through Stony Point. The overwhelming majority of the speakers opposed the plans to bring the power line through Stony Point, with only two union representatives and one environmental group spokesperson speaking in favor of the route. Representatives from Transmission Developers, Inc. (TDI), the project’s developer, were present at the hearing but did not speak publicly.
The hearing was part of the larger legal requirement for public comment on the project and the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Because the project involves the crossing of the international borders between Canada and the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, is the lead federal agency. However, the DOE will not make a permit decision without New York State’s decision on TDI’s certification that it is in compliance with the approved state costal zone management program.
County Legislator Doug Jobson, Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn, Stony Point Councilman-elect Tom Basile, and Stony Point Councilmembers Jim McDonald and Luanne Konopko all adamantly opposed the project. They all questioned the need for a foreign power transmission line rather than the development of local power companies, such as the former Bowline and Lovett. “This is just a 330 mile long extension cord,” Supervisor Finn said. “We need to create our own energy, our own jobs, put everyone back to work right here.”
Added Councilman-elect Basile, “Bringing the line on land will be a grave injustice to the people of Stony Point. Keep it in the water or make no mistake, the people of Rockland County will fight to the end to prevent it from coming ashore.”
While they sympathized with the many union members in the audience who support the project for the jobs they hope it will produce, the officials questioned whether there would be any real long term local job growth not offset by the loss of jobs and businesses resulting from the disruption of an overland power line. They also expressed their concern that one of Stony Point’s most valuable assets, its waterfront, would be decimated by a power line slated to run almost its entire length, interfering with industries present and future. Konopko also pointed out that the proposed CHPE route extended along the exact same area that Stony Point is currently trying to rehabilitate after Hurricane Sandy through the New York Rising Communities Program.
Dean Tamburri, field representative for AFL-CIO local 17, and Steven Reich, business manager for local 754, spoke in favor of the project, stating that TDI has promised to hire at least 100 or more local construction workers. Reich put it plainly: “We need to put men to work, and all the plans for American power plants have stalled.” He did concede, however, that the overland route of the line needed to be monitored closely, especially the areas where it would deviate from the CSX railroad right of way it is slated to follow.
Other unions opposed the project. Steven Ludwigson of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Brian McPartland of IBEW local 503 noted that CHPE would do nothing to benefit the state electric grid nor would it bring any real jobs to New Yorkers. “We must not end up reliant on foreign power,” Ludwigson stated, while McPartland noted the loss of hundreds of jobs when the local power plants closed down.
Susan Filgueras, a member of the Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment, asked the panel for an extension, a request echoed by many of the speakers. They all stated that concerned citizens have not had enough time to thoroughly go over and develop adequate responses to the hundreds of pages of case documents. Along with many residents whose homes lay in the direct path of the proposed power line as well as several representatives from the Sons of the American Revolution, Filgueras expressed deep concern that the proposed 1000 volt electricity line would run through historic Waldron Cemetery, the Stony Point Battlefield, many private residential properties as well as schools and businesses.
While some speakers opposed CHPE in its entirety, others were willing to allow the line provided that it remain in the water for its entire route—or, at least not come on land through Stony Point. Hayley Carlock of Scenic Hudson was one of the few speakers to support the on-land portion of the route, claiming that it was necessary to preserve the sensitive eco-system of Haverstraw Bay. Many others said that while they supported preserving the environment, they were more concerned about humans than about fish. As resident Mary Ellen Furlong said, “If it’s not good for the fish, then how good can it be for the residents on land?”
Donald Jessome, President and CEO of TDI, did not speak publicly at the hearing, but did talk later with the Rockland County Times. He stated that any decision to re-route the line back into the water was “not their decision to make,” but he also claimed that any fears of environmental disruption or seizure of property by eminent domain were greatly exaggerated.
“The line will run through pre-existing public rights of way along the CSX railroad,” he said, “and through negotiated proprietary leases with the corporate land owners.” He also noted that the Town of Stony Point would receive around $700,000 a year in taxes for the use of the right of way, and that the power transmitted through CHPE actually represents only about 2.5 percent of the total power used throughout New York State. “It doesn’t interfere at all with the development of other local, power solutions,” he claimed.
Jessome also stated that the company is making every effort to be “minimally impactful” on the land, and that TDI has expended a tremendous amount of time and energy in studying the issues raised during the hearing. “We did a terrible job of the roll out to the town,” he conceded, “and we will address the concerns and needs identified by the residents.”
The Public Comment period will extend to December 16, 2013. For more information on how to submit written comments, visit chpexpresseis.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Comments can also be faxed or sent by regular mail.