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Pro And Con: Albany County's "Blasting Law"

A new law has appeared on the books in Albany County, apparently aimed at addressing any perceived threat to public safety by the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.The so-called "blasting law" was hurried through the County Legislature.

Passage of the law Monday night came as a surprise to many: it did not appear on the agenda.

Voorheesville Democrat Herbert Reilly Jr. drafted the legislation after he discovered the pipeline would pass within a quarter mile of Vly Creek Reservoir in New Scotland as well as the former Kleen Resources site on North Road, which he characterizes as a Brownfield site of petroleum contamination.  1  "This should be a law that protects any area from explosions if there's gonna be a chance of releasing contaminants."

The 320-mile NED pipeline project between Northeastern Massachusetts and the Pennsylvania gas fields would run through rural or outlying areas of Rensselaer, Schoharie and Albany counties.

The new law mandates that any blasting in Albany County could not occur before any pre-existing ground contamination within two miles of the blast site be thoroughly researched and addressed.  "What we want the pipeline people to do is contact municipalities along the way of the pipeline as it's going through."

In getting the measure passed, Reilly invoked a rule that gives legislators the ability to vote when an item is not listed on the public agenda. He felt his bill needed fast-tracking because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the pipeline plan. Reilly says his law will avert potential disaster.

"If it ever dislodged something similar to what happened in Colorado there a month ago when they blew the wall out of a cave and all that stuff from an old gold mine comes chargin' out of there and so you just don't want to dislodge something. And that's the whole gist of it. When you're coming through, you have to inquire from the local municipalities that they suspect or know of a Brownfield, or maybe it's a dumpsite."

A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but told the Albany Times Union the company will work with county officials "as much as possible to seek to ensure that Albany's drinking water resources are not negatively affected" and is committed to inspecting and testing wells within 200 feet of pipeline work - if allowed by the property owner.

Six legislators, three Democrat and three Republican, saw "technical flaws" in the bill and tried to send it back to committee, unsuccessfully.  Colonie Republican and candidate for town supervisor Christine Benedict thinks it may be a little too tough on any would-be "blaster" if some sort of work needed to be done...    "If someone were to do some blasting a mile away from a contaminated site, they must clean up that site before they can go ahead and do their project. It's not right. It's a flaw, in my opinion, in the way it's written.  I do back clean drinking water 100 percent. It's the way the legislation was written. I had only asked that it go back to committee so it be written right and we don't open ourselves to a lawsuit."

Benedict suggests Democrats had Reilly's re-election in mind when they pushed the bill through:  the four-term incumbent suffered a loss in last week's Democratic primary to Bethlehem Town Board member William Reinhardt but is still running on the Independence Party line.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy had no comment.

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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