On Wednesday, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy marked the unofficial anniversary of the county’s advocacy for residents concerned about the hazards of expanded oil train traffic and processing in Albany’s South End. The air quality and noise issues created by both the trains and high-volume diesel truck traffic continue to plague neighborhood residents.
Early in 2014, residents in Albany's South End, alarmed about a plan by Global Companies to build a crude oil heating facility at the nearby port of Albany, held a series of meetings to discuss neighborhood safety issues.
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."
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and several environmental activist groups joined the ranks of the concerned. McCoy issued an order directing a moratorium on the expansion of the processing of crude oil at the port. "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."
McCoy long contended that the proximity of the Ezra Prentice Homes and the residents living nearby are in harm’s way due to the emissions produced by the facility and tanker car traffic just a few feet from a residential neighborhood.
Rail safety was a major headline-grabber following the July 2013 disaster in Quebec that killed 47 people. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer appeared with then-Mayor Jerry Jennings in downtown Albany that summer warning the public of the dangers of tank cars carrying crude.
On July 29th, 2016, the EPA issued Global Partners 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.
The citizens campaign against oil trains continued on, reaching a zenith of sorts in August, when federal, state and local government officials went to the Ezra Prentice homes, meeting with residents who talked about health risks and other issues associated with oil trains that literally "were parked in their backyard."
A study was cited that had revealed more than half of the residents suffer with asthma."It's gettin' harder and harder to breathe. In five years I aged 15 years..."
Among those listening: the EPA’s Judith Enck, looking to set stronger national standards for oil by rail, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, McCoy and Mayor Kathy Sheehan. "The other thing that the DEC is doing which I fully support and which really needs to happen is to do an air quality study right here."
Seggos says $500,000 has been secured to launch that study.
McCoy has called on the DEC to require a full state Environmental Impact Study to be conducted for the Global site in Albany.
Former city councilor Dom Calsolaro says concerns about truck traffic are being addressed: he met with officials with the Motor Carriers Association who assured him drivers are willing to look at alternatives and find possible ways of rerouting trips to lessen traffic along South Pearl Street.
The DEC is meeting next week with South End residents to discuss specifications for a half-million dollar air quality study, set to begin in May or June of this year. "There's a lot of school buses stored down in the South End, just south of Ezra Prentice, in a huge parking lot there, so they're running every day back and forth. So it's important that the study can be undertaken while the buses are running. The DEC told us it's gonna be a full year study. So that's very good and very important that it's a full year, not just a week or not just a month."
Aaron Mair is National President of the Sierra Club: "This is an environmental injustice horror occurring right within this district."
Calsolaro says although oil train traffic has subsided due to a drop in market demand for Bakken crude, the number tankers carrying ethanol has increased. "So there's still the banging and the noise. There's still venting, off-venting from the trains that are going into the air. And that's another reason why the air quality study that the DEC is going to do is gonna be so important."
BELOW: Global Partners’s statement, distributed at Thursday’s press conference regarding issues related to Ezra Prentice and the South End.