The discussion over a proposed 20-megawatt electric-generating power plant in the Town of Ulster continued last week with town officials holding a public scoping meeting to seek public input on the anticipated impacts of the project across a number of dimensions. Nineteen members of the public spoke during the meeting. Town supervisor James E. Quigley, III said it was clear that most of them would like to see the project simply go away.
“From what I’ve seen they’ve made up their minds,” said Quigley. “The comments I keep hearing are, ‘Just say no,’ ‘Just say no,’ ‘Just say no.’ That doesn’t even work for drugs.”
The town board is serving as lead agency on the project. It is tasked with assembling the scoping document and ensuring the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center proposed by Chicago-based energy concern GlidePath adheres to local, state and federal laws.
“The town board, and town itself, is in a difficult position,” said Quigley. “When you look at all the bodies of laws in New York State and all the requirements that have to be met through SEQR, there is no technical reason for this size facility that they can’t be met.”
The supervisor added that many of the questions being raised by area residents are also being raised by the town in its ongoing conversation with GlidePath.
“The concerns that have been raised heretofore have been the focus points of the town from the very beginning,” Quigley said. “With the exception of the fracked-gas issue, which is a national issue and a state issue, there is a body of law that is federal, state and local. And when someone comes and makes an application to the Town of Ulster planning board, we have an obligation to follow the law.
“And if in the process of the application and the study, they check all the boxes off and satisfy all the requirements under the law, if the town arbitrarily says, ‘No, thank you, your project is not approved,’ there will be a financial repercussion to the town. And that’s what we’re facing here: Some people don’t care. They don’t want it, period. Which is an arbitrary decision in relation to the planning and zoning laws in the Town of Ulster.”
The GlidePath power plant would operate on a small portion of a 121-acre site currently owned by Kingston Landing LLC off Frank Sottile Boulevard. According to the developer’s plans, a building housing the equipment would stand for between 30 and 40 feet in height. An exhaust stack would rise above the structure, and though developers were initially determined to keep that below the 100-foot height limit for the area. Developers last month said they’d scaled back the proposed height to around 80 feet, and hoped to get the stack lower than the tree line along the property, which is roughly 70 feet high. The project would include the 20 MW lithium-ion battery array and natural gas-powered reciprocating engine generators which would use on-site low-sulfur diesel stored in a tank if the gas supply were disrupted.
According to David Young, an engineer with the Chazen Companies, a Poughkeepsie-based planning firm involved with the project, the area housing the facility has been reduced from 3.09 acres to 2.3 acres, largely because of concern from nearby residents. “We’ve shrunk it down as much as we could and still accommodate the facilities that need to be on the site,” Young said. The total area of disturbance on the property would be 5.32 acres, with remaining green space at roughly 118 acres.
Involved in the presentation during last week’s scoping meeting was GlidePath’s chief development officer, Peter Rood.
Among the members of the public speaking at the scoping session was Sandra Pierson, a resident of Ulster Gardens Court, which she described as 161 units of “mostly elderly or disabled individuals.” Pierson said she and many others in the area surrounding the proposed site had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory issues that might be exacerbated by emissions from the plant. “I’m extremely concerned about emissions,” said Pierson. “I think it’s a very dangerous thing for those of us who are elderly. This is an extremely fragile group of people, and I really need to know that they are going to be protected.”
Air quality was also a concern for Judith Carpova, a Kerhonkson resident who said the facility going forward could set a dangerous precedent for Ulster County. “We have clean air here, and we’re proud of that,” Carpova said. “We prize it. It’s part of our tourism and many other economic benefits. But it also apparently makes us a dartboard for companies that can use us to exploit our clean air and pollute it and be able to be permitted to do so.”
Other concerns included the potential financial impact on property values, visual and sound issues, the impact on wildlife and others.
The safety of the facility was also discussed. “From a safety perspective, why would the sponsor propose a fossil-fuel-fired plant, mostly unmanned, in the middle of a forest which may be subject to external threat from natural causes or vandalism?” wondered Regis Obijiski, a Ledge Road resident.
Laura Hartmann, a member of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org and Democratic challenger last year to James Maloney for the Ulster County Legislature, said the proposed power plant raised many concerns, including environmental and fiscal. “GlidePath is not coming to the Town of Ulster to produce any significant jobs for our area,” she said. “They list four [jobs] in their EAF [environmental assessment form] for what is an unmanned facility. We understand that this project is being considered for the very much-needed tax revenue that it would bring to our town. But that shouldn’t outweigh the quality-of-life impacts and decrease in property investments that this will have on the residents and their futures.”
Quigley said he was encouraged by GlidePath’s willingness to listen to concerns from the public, and where possible, to adapt their proposal accordingly. “It’s a dynamic process, not a static process,” Quigley said. “There will never be a project that will be submitted on the first draft and the planning board is going to say, ‘Yes, that’s a great plan. We’re going to do that.’ There’s going to be changes. That’s the nature of the process. And here what you see is a very technologically complicated project that as they continue to consult with design engineers on the equipment, the project changes somewhat.”
The town board is planning to vote on seeking an extension from GlidePath for submission of the scoping document beyond the 60-day deadline to accommodate more public inquiry, Quigley added, something that is legally allowed by mutual consent.
The supervisor said the reason for the request was a simple one. “I’ve got 500 signatures on petitions and 187 PO’d residents,” he said.