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Town Hall At Ezra Prentice Targets Oil Trains, Air And Noise Pollution

Residents in Albany’s South End heard from top environmental officials Wednesday, the same day nearby Global Partners was criticized for air pollution. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas attended the meeting at the Ezra Prentice Homes.

Judith Enck former EPA Regional Administrator
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Federal Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck at Ezra Prentice (August 18, 2016)

For most residents of Albany, unless brought to public attention, the oil trains near the river far downtown are out of sight, out of mind. But not all.

Ezra Prentice is a 176-unit public housing complex located in between the Port of Albany and truck routes from the port.  The apartments and some 400 residents, including more than 200 children, are a stone's throw from railroad tracks feeding Global Companies' oil operation at the port.

Tenants say they endure sounds and smells 24/7 from the trains that pass through their backyard — and they say they've had enough. Some feel no one is listening to their concerns.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck and New York State DEC Commissoner Basil Seggos joined other government officials in a candid two-hour session with Ezra Prentice residents, who have long suspected oil trains and diesel truck traffic could be responsible for their health issues.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Three tenants at Ezra Prentice spoke about their ongoing health problems.

A recent study revealed more than half of the residents have asthma. Residents weren't shy about sharing their experiences.   "It's gettin' harder and harder to breathe... I've also had a sinus infection, lungs collapsed, my thyroid out... In five years I aged 15 years..."  Another habitant testified "life at Ezra Prentice is trains, tractor-trailers and garbage.” Another with a lung problem cannot open her windows at night due to the stench of crude oil.

Enck told the crowd that on July 29th the EPA issued Global Partners LLC a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act. According to the EPA, Global deliberately under-reported air emissions when it secured permission to significantly increase the amount of crude moving through Albany. After 30 days of the notice, the EPA can issue an order requiring compliance, bring a civil action against the company, and issue an administrative penalty. The firm also faces fines of $25,000 per day.  Enck says she plans to sit down with Global officials "soon."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy has been a staunch opponent of oil trains. "My office feels vindicated because we've been arguing this for the last couple years. Our lawsuit back in February 3rd of this year to the federal building, basically taking the lawsuit to them about the VOC and now having the EPA, you know we CC'd them on all of our stuff, having them come out and agree that the basis of our lawsuit is correct."

Global did not respond to a request for comment.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan assured residents she's monitoring everything that's going on with Global. "I know that they've taken legal action, so nothing is final, y’know we're still really staying on top of that."  Sheehan admitted to the crowd that, yes, the Port of Albany is looking to expand; she said port officials have the town of Bethlehem in their sights. 

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos promised an air monitoring study will soon begin in the neighborhood, a  $500,000 DEC environmental improvement program that will evaluate the impact of diesel emissions on Albany's South End. One resident described truck traffic in the area as "fierce." Volunteers including people from AVillage Inc pitched in for a diesel truck traffic count, finding nearly a thousand big rigs a day pass through the neighborhood.


Seggos pledged the state will do its part in regulating truck emissions. Residents engaged in public comment and q-and-a periods, one woman pleading for something — anything — to be done to cut the noise, especially the loud booms made when tankers are coupled and uncoupled. 

Aaron Mair, National President of the Sierra Club, condemns what he sees as an apparent indicator of environmental racism.  "This is an environmental injustice horror occurring right within this district [explosion heard in background] and you cannot wait until... THAT'S a coupling of a train, so when they hear, when they say 'bang,' can you imagine when your house is just 20 feet from that decoupling? So when you hear a bang, it sounds like they said, a bomb going off!"

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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