Advocates say Ulster power plant review process gives short shrift to public’s concerns

While discussion over a 20-megawatt electric generating power plant proposed for the Town of Ulster has reached the county level, area residents are still voicing their concerns about a scoping document for the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center (LPGSC) prepared by town officials.

In an April 24 letter to Town Supervisor James E. Quigley, III, members of the local advocacy group TownOfUlsterCitizens.org called the scoping document a “weak, boilerplate” effort which contained the issues brought forth by area residents opposed to the project, but failed to offer depth or alternative solutions.

“The overriding perception among many people in our town is that your request for citizen input into the scoping process was a fool’s errand,” said the letter, which was co-signed by group members Laura Hartmann and Regis Obijiski. “You fulfilled your legal responsibility to invite public comment, but the public views are of little account to you. We embraced your request — in fact your command that we ‘do our homework’ — and worked very hard, and took seriously, our role in the [State Environmental Quality Review] process. The reciprocity stopped there. In reviewing the final scope, it is evident that you wasted our good efforts.”

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Last week, Hartmann expanded on the group’s issues with the scoping document, along with the feeling that town officials are doing the bare minimum required by law as lead agency in the SEQR process in an effort to more easily green-light a project the community is against.

“The membership of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org feels that [the scoping document] did not accurately represent our questions. Our questions were much more specific than what the Town submitted. It didn’t represent fully our concerns with this power plant. The biggest one is the lack of suggestions of alternatives. That’s an important part of the scoping process and the SEQR process, and to put in there that ‘alternatives will be discussed’? What does that mean? We’re not privy to those discussions, so are we just going to go on faith? We gave very good, solid alternative suggestions. And that’s what should be done, in our opinion.”

On Monday, Quigley said that TownOfUlsterCitizens.org’s understanding of the State Environmental Quality Review process doesn’t align with the town’s.

“Unfortunately, under SEQR, if you’re proposing to build a store on one corner of the intersection, SEQR doesn’t allow you to say, ‘Well, the town doesn’t think it’s appropriate for you to build on this corner, you should go buy the other corner on the other side and move it over there,’” Quigley said. “We can’t tell them that. And quite frankly, I think what [TownOfUlsterCitizens.org is] looking for us to do is say that this plant is inappropriate for the Town of Ulster, move it to New Jersey.”

Hartmann didn’t disagree.

“In our opinion this is not a good project and not a good fit for our community,” she said. “Who’s going to want to look down from those peaks and say, ‘Oh, look at that beautiful smokestack?’ We can’t underestimate community character and what that brings to our community. It says everything about what our community is.”

TownOfUlsterCitizens.org provided a comparison between the points raised during the public commentary and what was eventually included by the town in its scoping document. In addition to a dearth of alternatives, the citizens group said the town failed to adequately address issues of public safety, public benefit, toxic emissions, and other concerns.

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein last month came out against the proposed LPGSC project, saying he believes it “threatens our citizens and our environment.”

GlidePath Power Solutions, LLC, the company behind the proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center (LPGSC), responded. Peter Rood, the chief executive officer of the project’s developer GlidePath Power Solutions, LLC, penned an open letter last week addressing what he called “misconceptions about our company and the proposed project” in Hein’s June 14 letter to the state Department of Public Service (DPS) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), as well as a meeting between developers and the county executive on Wednesday, June 27. Rood’s letter disputed both Hein and other local opponents of the project that it would only benefit communities outside of Ulster.

“The project will benefit local residents, not metropolitan New York,” wrote Rood. “It is simply inaccurate to assert that the LPGSC is proposed here in Ulster County only to serve the energy demands of NYC. The project will be connected to the low-voltage portion of the Lincoln Park substation, the same system to which numerous local businesses, homes and community facilities are currently connected. Because the grid operator is required to dispatch cheaper energy first, and LPGSC will provide cheaper and cleaner energy, it will be utilized before the older, dirtier, fossil fuel plants in the region. All electric consumers across Ulster County would use and benefit from the reliability of services provided by the project because the LPGSC will offer the same service at a lower cost.”

Hartmann disagreed. “I think that’s a crock,” she said. “Really, it’s downstate that needs it. I think he’s just grasping at straws, quite frankly. Downstate counties are benefiting, and we receive none of the benefit. So why do we have a need to have this here?”

Quigley said TownOfUlsterCitizens.org are, among other things, concerned about issues that will be addressed as the SEQR review moves forward, including some that are required by the New York Stated Department of Environmental Conservation.

“They’re making points about measuring environmental impacts from the air pollution,” Quigley said. “[Developers] are subject to air-discharge permits from the DEC. All that material is going to be produced and given to the DEC as a condition of their air quality permit.”

The supervisor added that it was clear the two sides were arguing from very different perspectives.

“They’re all talking about facts, and their facts are in one place on the left hand side of the field, and the facts from what I see are being talked about with the developer on the right hand side of the field,” he said. “And nobody is meeting in center field.”

Hartmann said TownOfUlsterCitizens.org and other members of the public opposed to the Lincoln Park project aren’t going to give up.

“Would we have preferred to not get to this point? Sure,” she said. “But we still stand by our interpretation of this, that there’s only the negative that we’re going to be getting in this community and there’s no benefit. It’s still a worthy fight, one we’re going to take on.”

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