Members of Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline (SNYFGP) attended last night’s Regular Meeting of the Stephentown Town Board to ask its three councilmen and Supervisor Lawrence Eckhardt to approve a non-binding, four-page resolution (PDF) against the project.
The best way to describe the tone of the meeting, which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, is congenial, which seemed to surprise Eckhardt, who commented multiple times about how much he appreciated the manner in which the near-capacity crowd of residents chose to express their concerns.
It seemed clear from the outset that congeniality was not the expectation for the evening, as evidenced by the unusual presence of Town Constable and Court Attending Officer Hank Wagar, who greeted everyone at the door with a sign-in sheet and a warning about the maximum occupancy rules of the building.
Presumably this was a precautionary measure in response to widespread opposition to the pipeline by area residents, 180 of which filled the much larger Stephentown Volunteer Fire Hall at a SNYFGP-led forum on February 5th, as well as the overwhelming number of phone calls, letters and e-mails Eckhardt acknowledged receiving since that event.
Eckhardt made clear before calling the meeting to order that this was a monthly board meeting with a specific function and agenda, but that the format does allow for a brief period of public comment to the board, which was open to hearing its constituents’ concerns.
After about a half hour of required town business, he opened the floor to attendees, prefacing the period of public comment by saying he has not heard back from Kinder Morgan about rescheduling the company’s recently canceled open house for Rensselaer County residents, and that the board is still gathering information about the project, as well as suggestions as to how they might act most effectively.
For the next 45 minutes, the mood of the room turned respectfully but unanimously anti-pipeline, with 15 residents (some involved with SNYFGP and some not) standing up and sharing their concerns about emergency preparedness and public safety, higher taxes and lower property values, and the lower quality, odorant-free pipe used in rural areas. Rounds of applause frequently followed the comments.
Stephentown resident Eric McCumber, who has spent “most of his life in construction,” shared his experience installing similar pipelines and how this pipeline could also be used as a high-pressure storage system for the fracked gas, presenting additional local dangers.
Bill Jackson, whose property abuts the proposed pipeline on Route 43, recounted his experience at a recent Kinder Morgan open house in Pittsfield, including the troubling answers he received from the company in regards to the security measures used for its pipelines, valves and compressor stations.
Both the board and the crowd responded with a mix of nervous laughter and disbelief, particularly when Jackson recounted the answer he received to the question of how Kinder Morgan believed the pipeline would benefit Stephentown: “You’ll be on the energy forefront!”
Fellow abutter Thom Pecoraro also reported getting misleading and conflicting information from Kinder Morgan in response to his questions, and suggested the board review the company’s record of safety and accountability.
Will Clark, a recent transplant to the neighboring town of Hancock, Massachusetts, was the only non-resident to speak out during the meeting. He just moved to the area from San Bruno, California, which suffered a massive natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010 that killed eight people and created a shockwave that registered as a 1.1 magnitude earthquake. He offered many warnings from his personal experience and strongly advised opposing this pipeline in every manner possible.
Residents also asked the board members why they had stated this was a “complicated issue,” if any of the members were abutters to the proposed pipeline route, and when they planned to make a decision about acting in response to the community’s concerns.
Amidst the extended period of open discussion, Eckhardt acknowledged that he was in contact with county officials, as well as the town supervisors in Nassau and Schodack, suggesting that he hoped a multiple-town response might be more effective.
He also stated he was struggling with the idea of risk vs. benefit for Stephentown, which, like all the other towns impacted in New York State, would not be receiving any of the gas transported by the pipeline in exchange for all the potential dangers.
When he further reported that the Association of Towns is considering a proposal for New York to require companies such as Kinder Morgan to provide gas service to areas impacted by future pipelines, as compensation for allowing them to be built, the idea was met with resounding opposition by the crowd, which made it clear that was not an acceptable representation of the will of the board’s constituents.
The meeting concluded with the board deferring any formal action, including voting on the resolution proposed and submitted into the public record by SNYFGP’s Sandy Nathan, but approving Councilman Philip Roder’s motion to schedule an official public forum dedicated to the issue for Monday, March 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at the Stephentown Volunteer Fire Hall.