BY CHERYL SLAVIN
On Thursday evening, January 22, the community room in the Stony Point RHO building was filled to capacity for the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s public hearing regarding the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Gas Transmission expansion application. The public was invited to comment on Spectra Energy’s proposal to lay about 37 miles of 42 inch diameter pipeline through Stony Point and Peekskill, including 15.7 miles of replacing the current 26 inch diameter pipe. The applicant also seeks to upgrade its current Stony Point compressor station with two new compressor units.
Administrative Law Judge Richard Sherman and DEC Project Manager Michael Higgins presided over the hearing, which addressed only the specific applications for Title V air permits, 401 water quality certification and several other wetlands and water permits. According to the handout available at the hearing, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has “approval authority over siting the proposed facilities and preparation of an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)” since the pipeline “is a component of the interstate natural gas transmission system.”
More than 40 individuals spoke, including some elected officials and union representatives. Those who spoke in favor of the new pipeline included Stony Point Town Supervisor Geoff Finn. He noted the $4.7 million in taxes the town receives from the company, as well as the jobs it would bring to the local union. He asserted that since the 1950s, when the pipe was first laid, “Algonqin has managed its facilities safely without incident,” and that an upgraded system could potentially result in reduced air emissions.
The orange T-shirts of Laborers’ Local 754 dotted the audience, and several union members also spoke in support of the project. They emphasized their expertise and adherence to safety standards while building the line. Union business manager Stephen Reich asserted that the new pipeline could be installed with very little disruption to the residents who live along the current right of way. He also noted that Spectra has committed to using 100 percent union labor for the project, with most of the workers to come from the local area.
The majority of the speakers, however, opposed the project. Their concerns included the potential increase in toxic air emissions especially around the compressor stations, the disruption of protected wetlands and forests, and for homeowners along the right of way, the potential damage to their wells and foundations caused by blasting a new trench for the 42 inch diameter pipe.
Susan Filgueras of Tomkins Cove, who lives about 600 feet from the line, and next to the compressor station, stated that she sustained $50,000 in damages to her home after Spectra laid the current 26 inch pipe several years ago. Several other Stony Point residents backed her concerns about potential impacts on drainage and wells, air quality and Spectra’s liability for the damages. A number of speakers also expressed safety concerns about the high pressure gas line’s proximity to Indian Point, its crossing under the “bomb trains” of the CSX rail line as well as its intersection under the Hudson River with the proposed 1000 megawatt CHPE electric line.
Since the gas line is slated to resume its route through Peekskill, residents of that city, including the mayor and deputy mayor, also attended the hearing to oppose the project. Resident Patrice Drake noted that Peekskill has already been designated by the DEC as an “environmental justice area,” an indication that the city’s residents are already over-exposed to industrial pollutants. Others mentioned the increase in asthma and other pulmonary illnesses in the children of the area.
Some speakers addressed their concerns about Spectra’s transparency, noting that its application in several parts rather than for one continuous project implicates the usage of “segmentation,” an unlawful practice of breaking one larger application into several smaller ones in the attempt to avoid certain regulatory requirements. Others questioned Spectra’s commitment to public safety and long-term liability as the pipeline ages. There were also several calls for the power companies and the government to explore and promote future-forward newer and greener technologies.
There will be no more public hearings on the permit applications, but the public comment period extends to February 27, 2015. Interested parties may submit comments to the DEC in writing on or before that date either by mail to: Mr. Michael Higgins, NYSDEC—Division of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750, by email to AIMproject@dec.ny.gov, or by fax to: 518-402-1750. More information about the draft permits can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/enb/20141231_