The Town Board got an earful from opponents of a proposed oil pipeline, but decided against passing a resolution to oppose the project until it receives more information.
Sue Rosenberg of Citizens Against Pilgrim Pipeline delivered an anti-pipeline petition to the board signed by 100 Saugerties residents at the Jan. 21 meeting.
Pilgrim proposes building two parallel pipelines that would run from Albany to New Jersey, mostly along the Thruway right-of-way but partly through private property. One line would carry North Dakota Bakken crude, an especially volatile form that is a product of hydrofracturing, or fracking, to a Linden, New Jersey refinery. The other would carry refined petroleum products back to the Port of Albany for distribution.
“We know that this board is equally concerned about the safety of the town and its environment,” said Rosenberg. “And this is why we’re asking you to consider this resolution which I have sent to you.”
New Paltz, Rosendale, Woodstock, Rhinebeck and the city of Kingston have passed similar resolutions, and Plattekill, Esopus and the Ulster County Legislature are considering following suit. In New Jersey, 30 towns and the state Assembly have also passed anti-pipeline resolutions.
Rosenberg said a resolution would be “a way of adding our voices to let the New York State Thruway Authority and the Department of Transportation know of our concerns and ask them not to make changes in their rules which will allow this pipeline to proceed.”
Arielle Herman, a Catskill business owner, said various pipeline officials have contacted her on numerous occasions.
“Their behavior is bullying and threatening and intimidating and manipulative,” she said. “And from what I can tell, they tell a lot of different stories to every single person they talk to.
“One thing they’ve been putting out there quite a bit is that they have the power of eminent domain. They have been telling people that we can either cooperate with their demands, sometimes for some piddly little compensation, and if you don’t cooperate that eventually they’re going to take what they want and that we have no say in the matter.”
Herman said most of her neighbors think the pipeline is a done deal based on statements made by officials. The neighbors “all seem very resigned to it because they are completely convinced by Pilgrim that they have absolutely no say in this matter and that this project is already in progress.”
“The reality is they have not even applied for any permits with the federal government, with the state of New York, state of New Jersey. They have not applied for the exceptions they need from the Thruway Authority or from the DEC.”
Pilgrim would need to secure an exception from the state Department of Transportation’s accommodation plan for the New York State Thruway, which only allows use of rights-of-way for telecommunications.
“So this resolution is really asking the New York State Thruway and the DOT not to change to accommodate for this pipeline because we think it’s a dangerous thing,” Rosenberg said.
“We are being asked to take enormous risks,” said Sachs Rd. resident Shelly Green, who said she has also been approached by pipeline officials. “What are the benefits? What if there’s a problem? Is it worth the risk? Who would be responsible? Who would clean up? Would it be even possible to clean up?
“When it’s too late, it is too late. You only have to look at recent events happening all over and rarely are the companies held responsible. They go bankrupt and elude responsibility. Oil companies have enormous resources to evade the town’s concerns and problems,” she said.
“Any small benefits the town may incur now are nothing compared to the potential damages and costs that could happen now and in the future. One thing we should have all learned by now is that huge corporations care about profits and making money, not about Saugerties. Please consider how this pipeline would affect Saugerties now and also in the future.”
Stephen Schafer thinks the pipeline is simply being used to market and push a dangerous and dwindling resource and communities need to act smarter.
“Instead of sucking all the fossil fuels out of the ground as fast as we can, rushing them to market and burning them, we should be going much more cautiously,” Schafer said. “Saugerties has a chance here for us all to think globally, think nationally, think climatically, think environmentally and act globally.”
Ulster County legislators Mary Wawro, R-Saugerties and Chris Allen, D-Saugerties, said an anti-pipeline resolution is in the works at the county level.
Allen voiced his agreement with Riverkeeper attorneys that despite their alleged claims, the pipeline company has no eminent domain authority. Pipeline officials have no right to be on private property unless they have permission, Allen said.
“You can call the police and have them arrested for trespassing,” he said.
Allen also noted this pipeline would do little if anything to reduce the number of tanker cars of crude oil transported through Saugerties on CSX trains daily. It serves only to augment that supply.
But despite the enthusiasm on display and high stakes outlined, the Town Board opted not to pass a resolution that night.
“We are considering this very heavily,” said Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel. “Hopefully you understand that the best interests of the town of Saugerties is in our hearts and minds and we will continue to follow this.
“Our planner, our professional engineer both have recommended that we not pass a resolution right now. We will put as much pressure on Pilgrim Pipeline as possible to have a meeting as soon as possible, have it here, totally open to the public.”
Helsmoortel recalled a situation roughly 10 years ago when Champlain Hudson Power Express sought to run a high-voltage power line through Malden and under the Hudson River. After pressure from the town, the project was dropped.
“We are listening,” said Helsmoortel. “We are paying attention. We have talked to our professionals we’ve hired for this and other situations, and we will continue to listen and will continue to involve the public. So, please don’t think that we’re ignoring you. We’re not. There’s much on our minds too, eminent domain, our aquifers, it’s all very, very important to us and we will not ignore those facts.”