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New Paltz Challenges Thruway Authority On Pilgrim Pipelines Review

January 13, 2016

On January 12th, 2016 the New Paltz Town Board again took a strong stand to defend New Paltz against the proposed Pilgrim pipelines, voting unanimously to approve sending the following letter asking that the New York State Thruway Authority be removed from their proposed role as co-lead agency for the environmental review of Pilgrim pipelines. New Paltz asked that DEC be sole lead agency,  and re-affirmed their opposition to the two  pipelines ever being built. Board members read the letter aloud for the public record, as follows:

January 12, 2016

BY CERTIFIED MAIL

The Hon. Basil Seggos

Acting Commissioner, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

625 Broadway

Albany, New York 12233-1010

Dear Commissioner Seggos:

The Town of New Paltz, as you may be aware, passed a Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines last year due to the unacceptable impacts these pipelines would have on public health, safety, climate, drinking water, streams and rivers, economic well-being, and more. In keeping with the leadership role New Paltz is taking to defend our community against the proposed controversial Pilgrim pipelines, and in keeping with at least 28 other New York towns, villages, cities and counties working together to protect our communities, we request that you resolve the dispute over co-lead agency by removing the Thruway Authority from its proposed shared lead agency role.

Pursuant to New York State’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) regulations, the Town of New Paltz hereby submits our formal request to NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Segos to resolve the dispute over the designation of lead agency for the Pilgrim Pipeline Project. 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5).

Two involved agencies, the New York State Thruway Authority and DEC’s Acting General Counsel proposed, on Dec. 21, 2015, that they serve as co-lead agency for the SEQR review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project. The City of Kingston, an involved agency, has now expressed its disagreement with and refusal to consent to this co-lead agency proposal by letter dated January 4, 2016, from its Mayor Steven Noble to DEC Commissioner Seggos and Robert Megna, Executive Director of the Thruway Authority, and by letter dated January 7, 2016, transmitting the resolution of its City Council to the same effect to Commissioner Seggos.

In addition, the Town of Rosendale, also an involved agency, has communicated to Commissioner Seggos, by letter dated January 6, 2016, that it remains committed to DEC and not the Thruway Authority as the sole lead agency for the proposed Pilgrim Pipelines project.

In addition, the Town of New Paltz, with this letter, also opposes the Thruway Authority being included in the lead agency role, and requests that DEC alone act as lead agency.

The refusals of the City of Kingston and towns of Rosendale and New Paltz to consent to the Thruway Authority and DEC’s Dec. 21, 2015 co-lead agency proposal mean that involved agencies are unable to agree on which lead agency will be lead and therefore any involved agency may request, by certified mail, that the DEC Commissioner designate the lead agency for this project. 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5)(i). The Town of New Paltz hereby makes that request.

The Town of New Paltz is an involved agency because portions of the Pilgrim pipelines project are proposed to be constructed within the boundaries of the town and local approvals are necessary before that construction could take place. The Town is identified as an involved agency in Pilgrim Pipeline Holding, LLC’s preliminary Draft Environmental Impact Statement dated August 2015 (page ES-&).

The New Paltz Town Board, on November 19, 2015, unanimously approved our offer to act as Lead Agency for the SEQR review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines. We sent that offer, along with our stated opposition to NYSTA as lead agency, to the DEC on November 19, 2015.

Information relevant to the Commissioner’s application of the designation criteria that are enumerated in the SEQR regulations at 6 NYCRR section 617.6(b)(5)(v) is presented below.

Per the requirements of the SEQR regulations, we are sending this request for the Commissioner to resolve the lead agency disagreement on the Pilgrim Pipelines project by designating the lead agency to all the Involved Agencies along the proposed Pilgrim pipelines’ route in New York State, and are hereby informing them that all comments they may want to submit with respect to the Commissioner’s designation must be submitted to him within 10 calendar days of their receipt of our request.

The Town of New Paltz, consistent with its resolution of November 19, 2015, remains firm in its belief that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and not the NYS Thruway Authority (NYSTA), is the only appropriate agency to serve as lead in the environmental review of the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project.  The Town, moreover, has significant concerns about the proposal for co-lead agency, and does not offer its consent for the following reasons.

It has been the policy of the DEC to discourage co-lead agency of SEQR processes, and the Town does not see how this case merits an exception. The NYS DEC website states that, “the purpose of having a lead agency is to coordinate the SEQR process so that when an action is to be carried out, funded or approved by two or more agencies, a single integrated environmental review is conducted. This lead agency is responsible for making key SEQR determinations during the review process”—a task made potentially much more difficult when two different agencies are granted joint discretionary authority. The DEC has the appropriate mission, jurisdiction, resources, and expertise to exercise a proper and thorough environmental review of this proposed project.

It is the opinion of the New Paltz Town Board that the criteria for a lead agency determination strongly favor DEC. These criteria, in order of importance, include: 1) whether the impacts are of local, regional, or state-wide significance; 2) which agency has the broadest powers of investigation of the environmental impacts; and 3) which agency has the best capacity to provide a thorough environmental assessment.

With regard to the first and second criteria, the proposed Pilgrim pipelines project involves numerous potential impacts to resources of local, regional, and state-wide concern, many of which are within DEC’s regulatory jurisdiction.  These include the Hudson River and such important tributaries as the Rondout, Esopus, and Catskill Creeks and Wallkill River, the Ramapo River Watershed, State-regulated wetlands, the Karst Aquifer Region (a priority project designated in the NYS Open Space Conservation Plan), Harriman State Park, and other resources that the DEC is responsible for protecting, including, possibly, endangered species (the Karst Aquifer Region, for example, provides critical habitat to the federally-listed Indiana Bat).

In addition, a proposed project to construct the first crude oil pipeline in New York must be evaluated within the context of the State’s broader climate goals and the New York State Energy Plan. Governor Cuomo has expressed his intention for New York to serve as a national leader in addressing climate change, and the DEC has statewide responsibility for climate change mitigation. The Commissioner’s Policy mandates that DEC must consider climate change in all its actions, including permitting.

In his letter of December 21, 2015, declaring NYSTA as co-lead agency, NYSTA Executive Director Robert Megna argues that the common regional jurisdictions of the two involved agencies are a basis for co-lead agency. We strongly disagree. NYSTA’s jurisdiction, while crossing numerous municipal boundaries, is confined narrowly to use and occupancy of its own property. NYSTA has no jurisdiction over the many environmental and community resources that are potentially put at risk by this project in the event of a spill or other major project impact.  The potential impacts of even a relatively small spill could have serious consequences for a community or communities through which the Thruway runs, if it contaminates an aquifer or water body.

By contrast, the NYS DEC’s governmental powers of investigation in review of this project are broad, as illustrated by Acting Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Thomas Berkman in his letter of Dec. 21, 2015, to NYSTA Executive Director Robert Megna:

A preliminary review of the application indicates there is the potential for significant adverse environmental impacts associated with the construction and operation of the pipeline, including but not limited to, impacts to hundreds of acres of forest, regulated waterbodies and wetlands. The Project, as proposed, would implicate the Department’s permitting authority pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law and the federal Clean Water Act.

Both the first and second criteria for determination of lead agency contained in the SEQR regulations strongly favor DEC.

With regard to the third criteria—the relative expertise of involved agencies—the DEC clearly has the greater breadth and depth of expertise needed for this review.  NYSTA’s knowledge of highway use and regulation and traffic impacts, while important, is highly limited within the context of a complex environmental review covering surface and groundwater, soils, bedrock and geology, stormwater, air quality, habitat, and climate, among other areas of specialized knowledge and expertise.  In past lead agency disputes on energy projects, the DEC Commissioner has pointed to the Department’s large staff of professionals with unique expertise in the many areas of potential environmental impact as favoring DEC lead agency.  The same holds true for this project.

The rationales for NYSTA lead agency status and for co-lead agency are not compelling, and could undermine confidence in the SEQR review process. Twenty-nine villages, towns, cities and counties municipalities that are considered “potential involved agencies” have already expressed their opposition to NYSTA serving as lead agency and their strong support for DEC serving in this capacity instead.

We urge the Commissioner to designate the NYS DEC as lead agency to oversee the critical environmental review for this multi-jurisdictional project.

Sincerely,

Neil Bettez, Supervisor

Daniel Torres, Deputy Supervisor

Jeff Logan, Councilman

Marty Irwin, Councilman

Julie Seyfert-Lillis, Councilwoman

Cc: Robert Megna, Executive Director of the New York Thruway Authority, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Treasury—Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline & Haz. Materials Safety Admin, N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, N.J. Department of Transportation, involved agency municipalities.

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