Discusses financial bonding for county projects
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Putnam County Legislature spent much of its Tuesday (Aug. 5) session revisiting old issues, expressing further concerns about the planned Algonquin interstate natural gas pipeline expansion and agreeing once more – over strong dissent from two members – to continue using bonds to underwrite county infrastructure projects.
In May, the legislature called for a moratorium on expanding the controversial gas pipeline until its impacts can be reviewed and serious hazards addressed. Tuesday evening, at its formal monthly meeting at the old courthouse in Carmel, it unanimously approved a new resolution demanding warning of scheduled “blowdowns” or gas venting from the pipeline and related compressor stations, and of notification within 30 minutes of unplanned, accidental releases. The Algonquin project includes enlargement of a compressor station in the Town of Southeast, in eastern Putnam County.
Officially called the Algonquin Incremental Market project, the pipeline would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and — if sited as expected — snake under the Hudson River to the Putnam-Westchester Counties boundary near Indian Point, home to the Entergy nuclear power facility; cross Putnam County; enter Connecticut, and proceed into Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Along with risks posed by the pipeline’s proximity to Indian Point, opponents point to threats from air pollution and health problems from a bigger Southeast compressor station.
Tuesday’s resolution noted that the pipeline company is not currently required to alert residents or governments of scheduled blowdowns. It called for “advance notification of all planned blowdowns and notification within 30 minutes following unplanned blowdowns … to all residents, police and fire departments, municipal officials — including local, state and federal officials — of all communities in proximity to compressor stations and to the county [government].”
The legislators also directed that the resolution be sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York State agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC); and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
After the vote, Paula Clair, a Philipstown resident who is a founder of the group Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, and Jerry Ravnitzky, president of the Concerned Residents of Carmel and Mahopac, thanked the legislators for passing the resolution.
“It will probably save some lives in the local community. This resolution is just to safeguard health and welfare” of residents and “safeguard their property,” said Ravnitzky, denying that the warnings and other safeguards sought by the legislature in its pipeline initiatives would hinder business or thwart the pipeline. Instead, he said, the measures simply stipulate that the pipeline should be expanded with the proper safety and precautions, to protect humans and the environment.
Clair said that she is “proud that Putnam County is the first of the counties around here to take a leadership role in protecting its citizens.” Westchester passed a resolution, after Putnam County acted in May. “Our legislation will, hopefully, give us some leverage with the DEC and New York City DEP,” which have oversight of pipeline matters, she added.
District 2 Legislator Sam Oliverio, a Democrat representing Putnam Valley and a candidate for county executive, carried on his crusade against use financial bonds, a form of loan, to pay for county infrastructure projects. The question came up this time in separate authorizations for funding rehabilitation of a bridge and county bikeway, both in Putnam’s eastern end.
Emphasizing that he supports the renovation but not the chosen method of funding it, Oliverio urged the legislature “to pay cash” for the bridge.
Legislature Chairman Carl Albano responded that “we’re going to have to do this, regardless” of the means of payment. “Bonding works well with something that has a useful life over so many years,” he said. “You can spread it [the cost] out and it makes sense.”
Oliverio raised similar objections about a new bikeway bond. “It’s the best quality of life addition we’ve ever done in this county,” Oliverio said of the bikeway, which the county continues to improve. “I absolutely support it, but I cannot support the bonding.”
“I’m not in favor of driving up the debt service with bonding,” added District 8 Legislator Dini LoBue, a Republican often allied with Oliverio.
They twice got outvoted, 6-2.
On vacation, District 1 Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown and a slice of Putnam Valley, did not participate in either the pipeline or the bond votes.