Controversial Kingston gas regulator plan closer to approval

(Photo by Steven Depolo)

A proposal by Central Hudson to install an above-ground gas regulator station in a residential Uptown neighborhood took another step forward last week when the city’s planning board ruled that the facility would have no major environmental impact. The ruling means that the plan may win final approval as early as Feb. 20 when the board meets again to consider the utility’s request for special permit.

Plans call for Central Hudson to replace a circa-1930’s natural gas regulator located underground at the intersection of Emerson and Main streets with an above-ground apparatus in a vacant lot on Washington Avenue near Janet Street. Officials at the utility say the existing regulator, which controls the flow of gas to 5,150 commercial and residential accounts in Uptown Kingston, has reached the end of its useful life. Modern best practices, Central Hudson officials say, call for above-ground facilities for ease of access and worker safety.

But neighbors of the proposed regulator station have expressed concern that the infrastructure will harm the character of their neighborhood, create pollution risks and become an eyesore.

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On Monday, Jan. 22, the planning board voted unanimously to allow the Central Hudson plan to move forward as a “Type II action” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The designation means that planners do not believe the project is likely to cause any major negative environmental impacts and the company does not have to go through a SEQRA-mandated engineering process to determine the scope of potential impacts and plans to mitigate them.

City Planner Suzanne Cahill said that despite the Type II designation, the utility had produced an environmental impact assessment that addressed issues like noise and visual impact. Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian said the company had also changed the site plan in response to neighbors’ criticisms. Among the changes, Maserjain said, were relocating the regulator station within the site to make it less visible from the street, replacing a proposed chain link fence around the apparatus with “decorative vinyl siding” and plantings to shield it from view.

But Common Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3), who represents the area around the proposed station, blasted the company’s response to neighbor’s concerns. Scott-Childress said that Central Hudson had rebuffed a group of area residents’ request to sit down and discuss issues around the regulator station, including what they believed would be more suitable locations elsewhere in the neighborhood. Instead, Scott-Childress said, the utility had responded with a letter referring them to the planning board that he called “arrogant and undemocratic.”

“That really burned people up,” said Scott-Childress. “That letter gave people all of the ammunition they needed to feel like Central Hudson is being a bad neighbor.”
Maserjian said the company had limited communication with residents to official meetings open to the general public to avoid the appearance of behind-closed-doors sessions with select groups. Maserjian noted that Central Hudson had responded to written questions submitted to the board as well as issues brought up during public hearings on the issue.

“We worked with the planning board to communicate with the residents,” said Maserjian. “If [a private sit-down with concerned neighbors] is something for us to follow up on, we would be happy to do so.”

The planning board is set to meet on Feb. 20 for a final vote on whether to grant a special permit for the site. If approved, Central Hudson will be cleared to apply to the city’s building department for construction permits. Cahill said the board will continue to accept written comments on the plan up until the Feb. 20 meeting.

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