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Community Meeting About Port Authority Heating Oil Facility

WAMC Composite Photo by Dave Lucas

Albany residents alarmed about a plan to build a crude oil heating facility at the port of Albany have rallied their forces after meeting to discuss neighborhood safety issues -  they are meeting again --- tonight --- Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 6:00 p.m. at Giffen Elementary School-274 South Pearl Street.  

The citizens say they don't trust Global Companies, the crude-oil transporter looking to build the heating facility, and the Department of Environmental Conservation, which is supposed to act in the best interests of New Yorkers. First Ward Common councilmember Dorcey Applyrs: "Lack of community input went into developing the proposal. It is my understanding that an environmental impact statement was not conducted. An environmental justice assessment was not conducted. And so we are looking to hear about what type of oil Global Companies is looking to heat at the port.  Also what are the health and safety implications for residents throughout the Capital District and neighboring cities and towns.  To date myself included and other residents have not been informed of any type of emergency preparedness plan in the event there is an oil spill, or God forbid, an explosion."

Rail safety has been under more scrutiny following the July disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer appeared with then-Mayor Jerry Jennings in downtown Albany over the summer warning the public of the dangers of tank cars carrying crude. 

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says his office has been keeping an eye on the railroad-oil issue.   "We had a letter, I had it co-signed by the Mayor of Albany, Town Supervisor in Colonie, The mayors of Green Island, Watervliet, Cohoes, Coeymans, Ravena, basically calling on the DEC and the federal government to overlook this."

A short drive south to Ravena's Magnolia Terrace housing development reveals a second set of railroad tracks already being laid down along a 5-mile stretch so trains can go in both directions.  Mayor John T. Bruno says the only notice the village ever received from the DEC was about drainage. The new tracks will be within 150 feet of private homes. And then he heard about the heated oil that would be transported from Albany.     "I was also told that once this oil is heated, the flashpoint is 97 degrees. You're not too far from something happening where this is going to explode. What we're trying to do here is get CSX to put some kind of a safety wall or something there to protect the people. Then I find out that the state of New York has subsidized 2 million dollars for this project. And I wonder if the State of New York will subsidize the village of Ravena to put some type of protection there because what is there is never gonna stop a derailment from hitting these houses. It's just not gonna happen."

Bruno wonders if the rails and switches being placed now may shift or settle over the summer months. He shares the Albany community's concerns.   "I'm dead set against heating it and transporting it south. Those buildings are brick (Albany), block and brick buildings. These buildings down here are wooden buildings they're stick buildings. They don't stand a chance. I've talked to Senator Tkaczyk , Assemblyman Peter Lopez and Congressman Tonko's office. We are trying to get a meeting with representatives of CSX. We have sent letters out and they will not respond."

CSX responded to a request for comment by email, saying, in part, "CSX has met with the Mayor of Ravena in that community on several occasions in recent months and has communicated by phone as well."  The communique from the railroad also mentioned CSX follows strict USDOT guidelines for transporting hazardous materials, and that CSX practices "meet or exceed federal regulations."

Back in Albany, Dorcey Applyrs of the common council and the South End neighbors are expecting answers at tonight’s meeting with the DEC.  "The City of Albany planning board has extended the public comment period through April so that the community can come and comment regarding the pending proposal that was submitted by Global companies to build the heating facility at the port."

Earthjustice attorney Christopher Amato has authored a letter asking, among several requests, that DEC halt the application process for this new facility until Global specifically identifies the origin and type of crude oil that it seeks to heat.   "There are hundreds of cars of crude oil being stored at the port. There's massive transfers of that product being exchanged between rail cars, tanks, and then ships and barges, and all of those operations carry with them a huge risk factor that nobody has evaluated yet. It's a time bomb, waiting to go off."

Councilwoman Applyrs says she will continue to press for environmental assessments to be conducted.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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