Residents of Stephentown filled the Volunteer Fire Hall to capacity last night to urge their town board to adopt a strongly worded resolution against energy giant Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline project, which would cut through Rensselaer County on its way to New England.
The more than 250 people who attended will have a memory they won’t soon forget as the community came together like never before in a show of solidarity against the many risks this large, high-pressure fracked gas transmission line would bring to the area with no benefit for any of the residents of New York State.
“We’ve never had a turnout anything close to what we saw tonight,” explained Stephentown Democratic Committee Chair Andrew C. White after the hearing. “And we’ve had some controversies in town. But nothing has excited people to get involved like this. Nothing else has even come close.”
In all, 66 members of the community, which included citizens of Stephentown and neighboring areas as well as politicians such as White and Rensselaer County Legislator Stan Brownell, stood up to address the Board during the two-hour meeting, most to loud rounds of applause.
Some had prepared statements and others spoke freely from the heart, but all were consistently respectful, thoughtful and eloquent, giving the hearing a positive, hopeful and unified feel, despite the gravity of the subjects being discussed.
Among the many concerns brought to the attention of the Board were the possibility of a catastrophic accident, the permanent loss of the pristine rural nature that makes Stephentown special, the taking of private land through eminent domain, the health risks of the chemicals in the fracked gas, the immediate need to develop renewable energy sources and Kinder Morgan’s safety record, as well as the negative impact on property values, drinking water, wildlife and local roads and bridges.
“We are not lesser citizens,” declared Stephentown resident Paula Dibble in reference to the lower safety standards for pipelines in rural areas, which include thinner pipe and shut-off valves that are often 10 miles apart. “I would like this board to definitely do a resolution. Do whatever it takes to keep that thing out of here.”
“When I look at this risk, and the more I learn about it, I see zero benefit for my people,” said State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, Stephentown’s representative in the 107th Assembly District. “It’s as if they are building a highway through my district without an exit ramp. None of our folks get to tap into the gas. None of our folks get to lessen their heating bills. None of our folks, that I can see, are even going to get a job out of this. The risk just simply isn’t worth it to me as an elected representative, so I will stand against this pipeline.”
Following a loud round of applause, he added, “When you spend time in Albany, you deal with some arrogance. I am not making this up when I tell you that of every company I have dealt with Kinder Morgan is by far the most corporately arrogant group of individuals I have come across.”
When Town Supervisor Lawrence Eckhardt called the hearing to order, he told the capacity crowd that the Board’s decision on how to act was not likely to come until the next Regular Meeting of the Town Board on April 20th, but his reserved tone had clearly changed by the end of the night after hearing everything the community had to say.
“We’ll have a resolution from our town in opposition,” he announced to a surprised and grateful crowd, which quickly erupted into a long standing ovation. “We will partner that with the other communities. [Councilman Bill Jennings] and I have met with Rensselaer County and representatives from Berkshire County, their regional commission, to work on the process. We’ll work hard at this, we really will.”
As he adjourned the meeting, he talked about the importance of being able to have this kind of close access to one’s elected representatives, adding, “I want to say again, from the bottom of my heart and from everyone sitting up here, thank you. I didn’t sleep well last night worrying about this, but why should I worry with a group of people that are so well behaved and so well spoken. Thank you very much.”
Eckhardt encouraged those who were too shy to speak publicly, as well as those who could not attend the meeting, to submit their concerns to the Board by e-mail or written letter so they can be added to the official record as part of this process. A formal announcement of the Board’s resolution is expected on April 20th.