By Josh Brokaw
Dominion Transmission will need more permits from the Town of Dryden to complete planned upgrades to the Borger compressor station in Ellis Hollow.
At a May 1 meeting in Varna, Town of Dryden supervisor Jason Leifer told concerned neighbors of the compressor station that Dominion already had approvals from the town and from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC]. At that point, Dominion would have needed to volunteer to go through the town’s “special use permit” process before making upgrades, Leifer said.
The Town’s position changed on Monday, May 22, when Don Houser, state policy director for Dominion, contacted Dryden officials and told them that more changes to the Borger station were necessary than had been planned. Those changes would require the approval of FERC.
“We figured at a minimum [Dominion] would need new drawings anyway,” Leifer told this reporter on May 26. “If it means they’re changing things it means we should re-review everything and they’ll have to stop work anyhow.”
In a press release issued the afternoon of May 25, the Town of Dryden said it “will be suspending the SWPPP (storm water pollution prevention plan) approval and building permit. In addition, the Town of Dryden will require Dominion to apply for an amended Special Use Permit (SUP) and go through Site Plan Review.”
Frank Mack, a communications project manager for Dominion Transmission, issued this statement in response to my request for comment:
“Dominion Energy Transmission is not making or requesting any changes to the approved equipment installations, approved limits of disturbance or the approved stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) at Borger Station. We intend to continue construction of the project as originally designed and as currently permitted, and we will not be requesting any changes.”
Mack had told the Ithaca Times on May 25, that the New Market Project team “re-examined its construction activities at Borger Station and determined that changes to the project are not required” after a “brief meeting earlier this week.”
Leifer said he received an email from Houser on Thursday morning “looking to confirm the Tuesday meeting.” About an hour later, a Dryden town secretary emailed Houser a copy of a letter the town mailed Dominion on Wednesday, outlining the new requirement for Dominion to go through the special use permit process.
“By 4 o’clock (p.m.),” Leifer said, “[Dominion] said they had a meeting earlier in the week on Tuesday … I don’t know why Don Houser would send an email yesterday to confirm next Tuesday’s meeting, then they release a statement later that they didn’t need it. Either they’re not talking to [Houser], or they’re just full of shit.”
In a second email, Mack reiterated that Dominion plans to go on with construction at the Borger station as it is currently permitted.
When the Dryden town board approved changes to the Borger station last year, it had “seemed it was only maintenance and a changing out of equipment,” Dryden planning director Ray Burger said. “As more and more details came out, it became apparent they’re really increasing the capacity of the station now, and with something going back to FERC [for approval], we had the opportunity to revisit a special use permit.”
The special use permit process can be completed in two months, including a public hearing. Burger said that in past cases “when issues came up, we’ve needed to request more application materials and they have gone on for several months.”
Leifer cautioned opponents of the Dominion project to temper their enthusiasm for this development.
“There are a lot of people who want to stop the whole New Market project, and the special use permit process cannot do that,” Leifer said. “The whole point of putting them through this is to figure out what they’re actually doing, and if anything to mitigate the effect on the neighborhood.”
“This is an odd case,” Burger said, “because FERC is the primary authority. They have made an analysis and judgment of many parameters, but still there are some local land use issues not necessarily dealt with by FERC.”
Construction on the New Market Project began in March 2017 at other locations, which include new compressor stations in Chemung and Madison counties and three new compressors at the Brookman station in Montgomery County. Dominion still anticipates the pipeline’s increased capacity to be in service by late 2017, Mack said.
Whether the New Market project is stopped or if upgrades can be made at the Borger station that reduce pollution, Lisa Marshall, organizer for Mothers Out Front NY, said that her group is happy that some of their questions will be answered.
“The angle our volunteers have been able to take is that we’re concerned about the climate, concerned about air quality,” Marshall said. “We’re not experts – we have a lot of questions, and we want the community to help us get these questions answered, we want the town to get these questions answered, and we want the county to help get these questions answered.”
Leifer said that town officials still plan on meeting with Houser on the morning of Tuesday, May 30, at the Borger station.
Mothers Out Front NY is hosting a “next steps” planning meeting at the Varna Community Center at 7 p.m., Monday, June 5.
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