Plans by Central Hudson to install an above-ground gas regulator station on a residential street in Uptown Kingston have stirred controversy as neighbors expressed concerns about safety, impact on community character and whether the company had considered alternative sites.
The issue involves a plan by the utility company to replace an existing underground gas regulator at the intersection of Emerson and Main streets with an above-ground facility in what is now a vacant lot on Washington Avenue near Janet Street. Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian said this week that the Emerson Street station was built in the 1930s and had reached the end of its useful life. The new station would be built to modern standards which call for building it above ground for safety and maintenance purposes. The new proposed station would provide gas service to 5,150 commercial and residential Central Hudson accounts in Kingston.
Maserjian added that the new station would be fenced in and surrounded with vegetation to make it visually unobtrusive. The unit, he said was designed to operate silently and would only vent gas under unusual circumstances. The proposed new station would also include technology to allow the utility to monitor its operation remotely and respond more quickly to potential problems.
“We have been maintaining and operating regulator stations for more than 80 years and we’ve never had an incident,” said Maserjian.
But neighbors say those assurances aren’t enough and they want the company to consider alternative sites in the neighborhood. Felipa Gaudet lives at 127 Pearl St., diagonally across the street from the proposed new facility. Gaudet said that she first learned of the plan this summer when a surveying team from Central Hudson showed up in her driveway. Since then, she said she has become increasingly concerned about the potential impact of the proposed facility on the residential street.
“I think there’s a real estate component, a safety component and health component that really does have an impact on our neighborhood,” said Gaudet.
Another neighbor, Christofer Livecchi, said he was concerned about toxins already present at the site, which held a now-demolished apartment building, which could be released during the new construction. Livecchi said he also worried that the gas regulator would disrupt the quiet, close-knit character of the block where he settled in 2015 to raise a family.
“We chose this neighborhood because people here are community oriented, they invest time and energy into their properties,” said Livecchi. “If they leave, what’s going to fill that void?”
Livecchi, Gaudet and a handful of other neighbors have led the push to have Central Hudson, which is currently seeking approval from the city’s planning board, consider alternatives, including building the new regulator a few blocks away in a commercially zoned lot on Washington Avenue, or retrofitting the current underground gas regulator station. Livecchi said at the urging of the planning board, they had reached out to the utility to arrange a meeting to lay out their concerns and work cooperatively to find an alternative location. Livecchi said that he had reached out to Central Hudson to set up a meeting but had heard nothing so far.
“It’s just crickets,” said Livecchi. “I have faith in the planning board, I just want them to take our concerns as seriously as we do. But I don’t have a lot of faith in Central Hudson right now.”
Maserjian, meanwhile, said the Janet Street site was chosen for its proximity to a convergence of gas lines. While the company had looked at other locations, he said, they determined they could not install the regulator there without suffering a “degradation in service.”
Gaudet said neighbors had hired an attorney to assist in their effort and invoked the city’s zoning code, which requires facilities like the gas regulator to actively explore alternative sites before they could be installed in residentially zoned neighborhoods. Gaudet said she doesn’t believe the utility had made a good-faith effort to seriously examine alternate sites.
“We just want to sit with them at the table and talk about the alternatives,” said Gaudet. “If they’re not willing to do that then, by the zoning laws, they haven’t done their due diligence and the permit should be denied.”