Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
What Pairs Well With a Finger Lakes White? Not Propane, Vintners Say

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Over the last two decades, vintners in the Finger Lakes region of New York State have slowly, and successfully, pursued a goal that could fairly be described as robust, with a lively finish: to transform their region into a mecca for world-class wines, and invite an influx of thirsty oenotourists.

But long before the local labels went upscale, the Finger Lakes were known for another earthy, if not so refined, industry: underground gas storage.

Now, those two legacies have collided over a long-simmering project that would store tens of millions of gallons of liquefied petroleum gas, and up to two billion cubic feet of natural gas, in subterranean salt caverns thousands of feet below the shores of Seneca Lake.

Those who oppose the plan describe it as an existential threat to years of carefully cultivated vinicultural development in the Finger Lakes, just as the area is beginning to bloom.

“Do we want to be known for world-class wine grapes, farm-fresh food and great hospitality?” said Will Ouweleen, an owner of Eagle Crest Vineyards on Hemlock Lake, near the region’s western edge. “Or do you want to be the gas-storage hub of the Northeast?”

In the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, opposition from winemakers and others to a planned gas storage facility has made anti-gas signs nearly as common as grape trellises. Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

The project inched closer to reality last month, when the State Department of Environmental Conservation scheduled a Feb. 12 issues conference, a proceeding on issues of fact and standing in the permitting process.

The state must approve the portion of the project that involves liquid propane and butane. The expansion of methane-gas storage received approval from federal energy officials in October.

Since then, dozens of protesters have been arrested near the natural gas storage site, just outside this upstate village, where rolling hills fall into deep glacial lakes. Anti-gas signs have become nearly as common as grape trellises. And more than 50 local winemakers — joined by several vintners from acclaimed wineries in California, France and Germany — have spoken out against the project, saying the community’s future is tied to the land, not to the gaping holes deep beneath it.
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