|Jeremy Alderson Press Conference
The press conference was held yesterday at noon. Joe Campbell of Gas Free Seneca and I both spoke, and it was very well attended. There were reporters from WENY, WETM, the Corning Leader, the Elmira Star-Gazette, the Odessa File, DC Bureau, and the Watkins Review & Express. . Unfortunately, Chris McConkey of Shaleshock was sick and could not videotape the event. There's some audio and cell phone video we may
be able to piece together and post later, but in any case, I can now tell the story, and I will tell it in greater length than I had planned, because there's no video.
As I have said before, this started almost by accident. When my second trespassing case was transferred to Judge William Kennedy of the Tyrone Town Court, we asked him to recuse himself, because he is also the Schuyler County Emergency Management Coordinator. He had been quoted in the press as saying that no special emergency plans were necessary for the Inergy facility. It seemed impossible to make a defense claiming the urgency of the danger at the Inergy facility justified civil disobedience before a judge who thought the facility posed no special challenges. Beyond the difficulty of it, it seemed clear that the judge would not be approaching the trial with an open mind. Kennedy declined to recuse himself, though, saying that he had only meant there were already protocols in place and so nothing new was needed. This, in turn, led me to file a series of Freedom-of-Information requests to see just what, exactly, the existing plans amounted to.
My hope was that, by accessing Schuyler County's files, I would discover things about the Inergy facility that had previously been kept from the public. At Inergy's request, the DEC redacts documents relevant to the gas-storage facility, but I thought maybe something would slip through the net in Schuyler County. I was wrong. Nothing could slip through the net in Schuyler County, because there's nothing in the net. What I discovered, to my shock, is that Schuyler County doesn't have an emergency plan for dealing with an accident at the Inergy plant. They say they are prepared, but they are unable to produce any evidence of that preparation.
Remember, salt-cavern gas-storage facilities have a documented history of accidents. In Kansas, gas migrated underground from a storage facility into the town of Hutchinson and set off multiple geysers of flame right in town, killing two people and destroying many buildings. In Moss Bluff, Texas, an accident at a salt-cavern storage facility sent flames leaping 1000 feet into the air, according to observers. In Bayou Corne, Louisiana, a collapsed salt-cavern gas storage facility created a toxic slurry-filled sinkhole that forced the evacuation of residents, and an official state of emergency is still in effect there as I write these words.
Is Schuyler County prepared to meet an emergency like the ones that have already happened elsewhere? What would happen if geysers of flame erupted in Watkins Glen? How would people be evacuated? How would the flames be fought?
This is what I found out:
- Schuyler County has purchased no equipment specifically for dealing with an emergency at the Inergy facility.
- Schuyler County has not done one minute of training with first responders to prepare them for an emergency specifically at the Inergy plant (they claim that generalized training is sufficient).
- Schuyler County does not have in its possession copies of Inergy's own emergency plan or any evaluations of the safety of the salt caverns.
- Schuyler County has no correspondence on file between itself and Inergy with regard to safety at the facility.
- In fact, Schuyler County does not have a single document of any kind in its files about safety at the facility. Here is a quote from Peggy Tomassi, confidential secretary to Schuyler County administrator Timothy O'Hearn: "There are no documents generated by Schuyler County or received by Schuyler County with reference to preparing for emergencies at Inergy's Reading, NY gas-storage facility."
- Schuyler County does not even have a map of the facility. When I filed a FOIL request for any maps in Schuyler County's possession, all I got back was a single aerial photograph, not a map. Schuyler County is claiming that there might be maps on file with the fire department or the ambulance service which would not have been covered by my FOIL request, but there is no question that my request covered the Schuyler County Emergency Management office as well as the county administrator's office (Schuyler County Administrator O'Hearn is also on the county's emergency committee). So we can say for a fact that the Schuyler County officials responsible for emergency planning don't even have a map of the Inergy facility.
One interesting question related to this is does any county have adequate civil preparedness to deal with an emergency involving New York's growing gas-industry infrastructure? Folks fighting pipelines and compressor stations might want to check. If New York State had ever sent out a directive to the counties saying that extra caution was required, it should have turned up in Schuyler County's files. The fact that no such document has come to light suggests that the state may be facilitating the growth of the gas industry by cutting corners with the safety of its citizens.
Certainly in Schuyler County, the authorities are more interested in dismissing concerns than saving lives.