Montgomery County

Montgomery County board joins call for gas plant oversight

The Montgomery County Legislature this week agreed officially to back a handful of local communities
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The Montgomery County Legislature this week agreed officially to back a handful of local communities calling for further study of potential environmental and health effects of the proposed expansion of a natural gas compressor station in the town of Minden.

The nine-member legislature passed the resolution Tuesday night — with eight in favor and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz abstaining — asking for stricter oversight of the New Market Project by Dominion Transmission Inc.

“I think it was a critical piece of legislation in that it unifies all the local jurisdictions and kind of sets the tone,” said John Valentine, spokesman for Mohawk Valley Keeper, a group formed in response to the New Market Project. “We’re paying attention to this. We’re concerned about this.”

The New Market Project has been proposed to increase the capacity of Dominion’s 200-mile natural gas pipeline in New York with two new compressor stations in Madison and Chemung counties and upgrades to the existing Brookman Corners station in Minden. The project would add more than 11,000 horsepower of compression to the station, which Valentine said would make it the largest in the state.

Dominion filed its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate gas pipelines, in June 2014. FERC has not yet issued a decision, but an environmental assessment is expected as soon as Tuesday, with a public comment period to follow.

County Legislature Chairman Martin Kelly said Wednesday that the resolution came in response to “a large constituency” voicing concerns about the effects of the upgrades.

“Our resolution was in support of the town of Minden and other municipalities that have taken action,” he said. “It’s not necessarily against the Dominion New Market Project, but asking for a more in-depth, more clear study from FERC and also bringing to light some possible air-quality issues that could happen if the project were to continue with the plan that Dominion has laid out.”

Valentine, who owns a farm in Minden, said Mohawk Valley Keeper represents more than 100 families in the area — including many Amish — concerned about the health effects of the upgrades. As it is, he said, the compressor station is relatively quiet, running only for about an hour on Monday mornings.

But nearby residents, mostly farmers, worry a bigger compressor station will bring with it dangerous emissions — more than twice those of other compressor stations in the project, according to the legislature’s resolution. The resolution cites studies that have shown compressor stations can produce chemicals like methane and formaldehyde, among many others, that pose a risk to health and the environment.

Not far south, in Schoharie County, which is facing proposals for two new pipelines and compressor stations, officials and others have been pushing the state to study the effects of compressor stations in the same way fracking was studied. That seven-year study led to a ban on the practice earlier this year.

Any harm emissions may cause is compounded by the fact that the Brookman Corners station sits at the bottom of a valley, Valentine said.

“Most of these compressor stations, when you see them, they’re up on a hill or they’re up on a ridge or wherever,” he said. “Because of the geography in the valley and where this station is proposed to be, those emissions hang low in the valley and they actually never really leave the rim of the valley.”

Many of the farms in the area are organically certified, he said, and the owners fear increased pollution could threaten that certification.

The legislature’s resolution, which follows similar resolutions already passed in Minden, Canajoharie, Sharon Springs and elsewhere, asks FERC to prepare a full environmental impact statement instead of the planned, shorter environmental assessment scheduled to be finished next week. It also calls for independent analyses of the health and environmental risks associated with the Brookman Corners projects and several design modifications to diminish the harmful effects as much as possible.

“If this thing is going to be built, we expect nothing less than the most nonpolluting equipment,” Valentine said.

The stated goal of the project on Dominion’s website is to bring more natural gas to upstate New York markets, though Valentine suggests it will be used to transport the gas to Canada for export overseas.

Dominion had projected getting FERC certification this summer and beginning construction in September. Despite the delay, company spokesman Frank Mack said the upgrades, if approved, are still scheduled to be in service by November 2016.

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