Legal Appeal and Protest Target Wawayanda Energy Plant
WAWAYANDA—A press conference at the entrance to the CPV Valley Energy Center construction site in Wawayanda on Dec. 18 turned into a protest that ended with the arrest of six protesters, including actor James Cromwell.
Representing local residents who oppose the project, Attorney Michael Sussman held a press conference near the site entrance. After his statements to the press, Sussman left for the New York Court of Appeals, Second Department, in Brooklyn, to file an appeal of a lawsuit seeking to stop the energy plant’s construction.
Sussman pointed to a short-sighted approach to public policy by elected leaders. Sussman called the proposed building a “past-generation facility, a facility which is not needed in New York and should not be built.”
CPV Valley Energy Center, jointly owned by Competitive Power Ventures headquartered in Maryland and Diamond Generating on the West Coast, is planned to be a $900 million, 650 megawatt (MW) natural gas-powered combined-cycle electric generating facility.
Opponents of the plant believe that fossil fuels are becoming an energy source of the past. Alternative energy sources are becoming more feasible, but their wide use is delayed if a natural gas-powered facility is approved, the opponents say.
Ban on Fracking
Sussman addressed New York’s ban on fracking because of the likelihood that the technology negatively impacts public health. Hundreds of studies attest to the adverse effects, he said.
Steve Remillard, vice president of development at CPV, said at the Orange County Partnership’s annual event on Dec. 1 that the company has no control over how the natural gas is extracted.
“We can’t dictate what gas goes into the pipeline because we buy it off of a pipe,” Remillard said. “That gas could be fracked gas or it could not be fracked gas.” He said the gas is cleaned “up to a certain quality” before it is used.
Remillard said the company did extensive outreach to explain this to the local community. Foreshadowing the events of Dec. 18, actor James Cromwell became disruptive during Remillard’s remarks and was ejected.
Sussman said the company did not adequately address four issues around the SEQRA report (a report mandated by the State Environmental Quality Review Act). He questioned how the project could be approved when fracking is banned in the state nor show how the project would affect the habitats of some plants and animals on the site. CPV did not adequately show how construction would affect the habitat of the bog turtle, he said, and did not respond to a Harvard study on the effect of similar projects on autism rates.
“CPV and the Town of Wawayanda, working together, resisted additional studies and plowed ahead, as you can hear [referring to noise of machinery at the site], with this project,” Sussman said.
The initial legal challenge was filed last May. Plaintiffs contended that the environmental reviews done of the CPV plant by the Town of Wawayanda were not complete. The court sided with the town and CPV. The town was lead SEQRA agency and approved the report on May 23.
Sussman said the chair of the town planning board brushed aside concerns of the plaintiffs and others during public hearings in April. Remillard said the company went through a lot of review in a process that began in 2008. “We had it fully vetted. There was a lot of public participation in the project.”
State energy policy has changed since the initial approval, according to Sussman, and the site has been designated as a habitat for an endangered species, the bog turtle. “Those changes were never recognized, and they invalidate the approval,” Sussman said.
Profits and Benefits
Sussman called on people in the region to step up. “The people cannot tolerate this nonsense. We have a plethora of energy sources in our community which make this unnecessary and the people of this community should not be sacrificed for someone’s profits.”
The project is the largest ever seen in Orange County, according to Maureen Hallahan, CEO of the Orange County Partnership. At an event in November, she said CPV will provide jobs and investment in the county–25 permanent jobs and 500 union construction jobs over the next two and a half years.
Hallahan estimated the total economic impact over the next 20 years at more than $2 billion, with an additional $41 million in incremental revenue for the county, town, and school district.
Sussman countered the claim about jobs. “The money is not going to stay here. They are talking about jobs but I understand that once this plant is opened, there will be, like, 25 jobs—not exactly a whirlwind producer of economic boom to this area.”
“Destroying our environment and imperiling human health are much more important deficits than anything short-term is a benefit to anyone,” Sussman said.
Maryann McDonough held a placard while Sussman spoke. She wasn’t impressed with the project’s benefits. “No amount of money can purchase your health.”
After Sussman left, a group of about 20 protestors than gathered in front of the site entrance with placards, signs, and large banners. A man with a megaphone led the group in saying “Listen to our chant. No fracking power plant.”
Three protesters chained themselves together: James Cromwell; Madeline Shaw of Slate Hill, who is a member of Protect Orange County, which opposes the CPV project; and Pramilla Malick, from Minsink. They were arrested by state troopers, along with three others who linked arms next to them.
Cromwell issued this statement: “I am here in support of the people of this town, this country, and people all over the world who have a right to live in an environment that is not being polluted, poisoned, and devastated by an industry that cares more about its own profits than the well-being of all sentient beings.”
Brian Beard said he was not part of the protest but came to observe. He came to agree with concerns expressed by protesters. “As I got closer and closer in examining the issue and data, it became apparent that something had to be done.”
He said he worked on a fracking ban in his community before the state ban took effect. “I’ve still been monitoring the issue here, and I completely support what they are doing here because I steadfastly believe that money has been trumping health policy and economic policy.”
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