Global Partners, a closely-watched business in Albany’s South End, hosted a meeting Tuesday with nearby residents who have long raised concerns about the environmental conditions in their neighborhood.
Prior to submitting a permit renewal modification with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, Global Partners gathered with residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes.
It was different from many past meetings: no lines of folding chairs, no podium, slideshow or other formality. Elected officials, neighborhood activists and Global representatives mingled. A few tables served as stations addressing certain aspects of Global's activities. One served up a modest buffet dinner.
Global Partners vice president of external communications Catie Kerns says the meeting reflects a companywide change in how Global communicates. "Citizens are so much more aware. We're living in an era of social media and access to information. People are actively engaged in their communities in ways they didn't used to be. And so in order for us to be the best company and partner we can be, we really had to dig into the communities and figure out how to communicate in different and better ways, and we're trying to do that not just here in New York, but across all of our terminal networks."
108th District state Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat, said he showed up to meet with both constituents and Global officials. "You know it's been a couple years since we really had some good public dialogue with Global and my understanding is they wanna make some changes that I think overall are gonna be positive for the community and just in the boiling process for the environment 'cause when you did things that are positive for the environment here you are doing something positive in the community."
Global was at the center of a years-long battle over noise and odors emanating from the "oil trains" that sparked health ans safety concerns. The tankers often sat parked on tracks abutting Ezra Prentice Homes. The situation that alarmed residents and drew the ire of government officials petered out as petroleum prices fell and the U.S. economy improved.
In efforts to mend relations with its neighbors, Global hired a Community Liaison, Mark Bobb-Semple. "I'm not really here to represent Global, I'm here really to represent the community. Hosting some of these things is really my role. To really make sure the community understands what Global is all about."
Bobb-Semple says Global has shared plans with residents to submit a permit renewal modification to DEC which it says includes "some voluntary changes that have been influenced by previous community input."
Albany County Legislator Carolyn McLaughlin represents the 1st district: "Tonight they're letting people know that they're filing for a reduction in 75 percent of crude oil but also there will be an increase in terms of biofuels. But letting people know what that means and what it's gonna look like, and how's it gonna impact the residents."
Global plans include installing natural gas-fired boilers needed to receive, store and ship biofuels including renewable diesel, which Kerns says will lower the overall carbon footprint of transportation. "In order to move biofuel, which can be a gelatinous material, you have to warm it. So biofuels are made from things like fryer greases and rendered animal tallows, so they're a recycled product. By their nature they're waxy or gelatinous. So in order to keep them warm you have to heat them. It's a pretty low temperature. They have to be heated to about 100 degrees."
Tarea Alston is vice president of the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association. "I'm just still up in the air with my opinion. They're saying that you know, Global has little to no effect on the air quality. I actually went to do a walk through Global a few months ago which was great. They showed us how they do their day to day process and basically the effects that it has on the pollution. I'm finding that it's basically supposedly coming more so from the trucks with the DEC study."
Alston referring to a 15-month air quality study that concluded in October. It found local truck traffic is the largest cause of air quality concerns at Ezra Prentice Homes.
DEC did not send a representative to the meeting and Global Partners has yet to file an application for a permit modification with the agency.