This gas transmission facility on Federal Road near Griegsville was built without site plan review or town planning board approval.
Town of York
Natural gas facility built in York without public review
At a time when there is sensitivity surrounding the natural gas industry and the potential for hydraulic fracturing drilling — when 11 of 17 Livingston County towns have adopted a moratorium restricting such ‘hydrofracking’ — a large new natural gas complex has been built in the Town of York without public hearing or other local government approval.
In an interview with The County News, York Town Councilman Norman Gates said the facility, located on Federal Road between Dow and Craig roads, has nothing to do with gas drilling. It’s an upgrade to the mainline natural gas transmission system in York.
However, Gates conceded that the town should have, but did not, hold proposed construction of the plant to site plan approval by the town planning board, and possibly to a hearing before the general public.
Gates said the mistake was not intentional, but was caused by oversight on the part of the town’s code enforcement officer, who issued a building permit for the project without having first initiated a review by the planning board.
Citizen activists in York are claiming that the natural gas company was not straightforward in presenting its plan, having first proposed a “minor” modification of an existing building, but then “clarifying” their plan into what turned out to be major reconstruction.
York Town Supervisor Gerald Deming admits that his town failed to require a planning board review. However, Deming said, the board has been assured by its attorney that, under a statute of limitations, the time for making complaint or subjecting the town to penalty [by means of an Article 78 lawsuit] has passed.
Deming noted that, under town law, the planning board has the option of holding or not holding a public hearing for any particular site plan it is reviewing; so there still may not have been a public hearing, even if the construction plan had been reviewed by the planning board. Deming gave no indication that town intends to host a retro-review or to otherwise make amends for the oversight.
The now almost-completed complex covers piping which had previously been outside, in sight and exposed to the elements, Deming said.
Deming confirmed that matters related to regulation of the interstate gas pipelines in the Town of York are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; neither local government or New York State Department of Environmental Conservation play a significant role in the regulation.
Hearing waived for second facility
Modification on another natural gas facility, which was recently begun in the Town of York at the corner of Federal Road and Route 63, was apparently also without planning board involvement — until residents at the Sept. 13 meeting of the town board called attention to the issue.
In the case of this second project, plans have now been examined by the town planning and zoning boards. The facility will serve as an injection point for the sulfur compound which is mixed with natural gas to give the otherwise odorless gas its telltale smell for safety purposes.
The planning board has voted to waive a public hearing, ostensibly because the improvements will be small in scope.
Councilman Gates shared his recollections of the history of the natural gas transmission lines running through and near his family farm. He remembers two were built through the farm — in crisscrossing directions — in the early 1950s.
Today they are still there as the Dominion and Tennessee lines. As a six-year-old in 1952, Gates remembers having trouble getting the cows to cross the recently filled-in pipeline ditch at milking time.
Various upgrades were made over the years. The Tennessee line, which apparently was always a high capacity 24 inch diameter pipe, received compressor engines in the 1960s, installed on the 60 acre farm which the gas company purchased on the opposite side of Federal Road. These were later removed, but then replaced by larger engines in the 1980s.
The original Dominion line purchased a 1.5 acre parcel from Gate’s grandfather to build two small valve houses for ‘bleeder lines’ off the main. One of the houses was taken down in the 1960s, but the second persisted until it was demolished for the new construction this year. A new, higher capacity 16 inch pipe has now been installed in place of the old 8 inch line.
Gates has been told by construction workers that the recent project would “upgrade things from the 1950s to the present day.” Among its functions, the complex will allow for regulation and transfer of gas between the Dominion and Tennessee pipelines. The former piping could also facilitate such interchange, but only on an emergency basis.
The Tennessee and Dominion main lines cross below a field on the Gates farm about a half mile distant from the new complex. Feeder lines connect the complex with both mains.
The three-building project is nearly complete, but has yet to be graded and fenced.
A large pumping station in the Town of Castile will be part of the newly-upgraded Dominion system.
The second project, the station whose construction was just begun at the corner of Federal Road and Route 63, is on a separate and new RG&E line, Gates said.
In a later interview with The County News, Fred Mingrino and Grayce McLaughlin, representing the concerned citizens of York, shared their research and speculation in regard to the new gas facilities.
The new, large facility on Federal Road, which is near their home, is apparently a facility for metering, storage and regulation of natural gas, built by the Richmond, Va. firm, Dominion Transmission, Inc.
“But we still haven’t gotten an answer from the town as to what this facility really is,” Mingrino qualified. “There are a lot of questions we would have liked to ask, if there had been a public hearing.”
McLaughlin, who has done her own private research of public documents relating to the project, said, “I’ve told the town more about this than they can tell me.”
The complex is a link in what Dominion calls its ‘Ellisburg to Craigs’ project, a pipeline upgrade and expansion underway to accommodate transportation of the greatly increased production of natural gas coming out of Pennsylvania.
The project as a whole was described in a half-page legal advertisement which appeared in the Livingston County News edition of Dec. 16, 2010. However, at the time the Livingston County component was described as being only 2,875 feet of new 16-inch pipe and replacement of some valve assemblies.
In a Dominion report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed in January of this year, the Livingston County component was subsequently “clarified” with modifications which added three buildings and associated facilities. The new buildings house expanded meter and regulator runs, computer and communication equipment, gas heater operations and serve for personnel protection.
None of these modifications were noticed to the Town of York, McLaughlin emphasizes.
The firm’s principal contact with the Town of York before starting construction of the plant was obtaining three building permits costing less than $200.
Agendas indicate that the Livingston County Board of Supervisors received three notices relating to the project over the course of the past year. In one instance, supervisors were alerted to a meeting related to the project which had taken place in Wyoming County on the day before they received the notification.
Mingrino suspects that, as a complete makeover and expansion of a nonconforming use in an agriculture zone, the Dominion project ought not only to have been subject to site plan review by the planning board, but also should have sought a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Mingrino and McLaughlin remain concerned over issues of emissions and noise which could be associated with the new complex, as well as health problems known to be caused by exposure to natural gas. In the absence of public hearings, their concerns over health and safety issues remain unanswered.