Gas and the Gorge

Inergy Corporation plans to build a huge “liquid petroleum gas” (LPG) storage facility in salt mine caverns along the west shore of Seneca Lake just two miles north of the Village of Watkins Glen. It is planned as a storage area for gas supplies for the entire northeastern U.S. This appears to be a facility where Marcellus Shale hydrofracked “natural” gas will be stored.

Former salt mine near Watkins Glen

Inergy Corp. plans to develop the former deep salt mine two miles north of the Village of Watkins Glen on the west shore of Seneca Lake into a huge liquid petroleum gas storage and distribution depot.

As required, Inergy has prepared a “draft supplemental environmental impact statement” (dSEIS) for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the public has been commenting on it. Citizens have raised many alarming concerns. The deadline for public comments is tomorrow, November 14. For information about this enormous project, its potential impacts on the area, and how to respond, see Gas Free Seneca’s website.

Rainbow Falls, celebrated by Mark Twain in 1871, is one of the scenic gems of Watkins Glen State Park.

I have sent some comments about potential train noise and truck traffic affecting Watkins Glen State Park. Here are excerpts from my comments:

“I am concerned that the LPG facility considered in the dSEIS will have a negative, degrading impact on the aesthetic values of the state park. Watkins Glen State Park is an aesthetic resource of statewide significance, according to DEC guidelines. There are somewhere between half a million and million visitors per year. From May through October, Watkins Glen State Park is the most heavily visited state park in the Finger Lakes region. It has the largest campground of any state park in the region, with more than 300 campsites. Yet the dSEIS does not consider potential aesthetic impacts on the park due to transportation of LPG through and near the park; it just considers aesthetic impacts from the storage facility itself. This is a serious omission.

Railroad trestle crosses the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.

Trains hauling liquid petroleum gas would cross this bridge over the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park that is more than 75 years old. Park visitors read an interpretive sign about the bridge and its history along the Gorge Trail.

The dSEIS for the LPG project acknowledges that there will be increased rail car traffic over the railroad trestle crossing the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park, over a bridge re-built following its collapse during a flood in 1935. On page 125, the dSEIS says, “A northbound train (Geneva Turnaround) from Corning will typically have 24 cars in addition to the 32 Finger Lakes cars it will be transporting. The maximum number of cars that will be on the same train would be 72 cars.”  This means that the load of passing trains on the bridge could be more than doubled by the shipment of LPG. Though this old bridge has handled past traffic, I am concerned that the bridge, with its great age, will deteriorate much more quickly with the increased rail traffic. The fact that there have been no accidents on the bridge since Norfolk Southern took it over does not re-assure me as to the possibility of potential future failure with the increased traffic. In addition, LPG tanks may be much heavier than the mix of cargo carried by other rail cars currently hauled on this route. And Inergy indicates to its investors its desire to expand its operation to serve the entire northeastern part of the country at this facility. The dSEIS needs to require full disclosure of Inergy’s expansion plans and the resultant increase in rail traffic on this bridge and other bridges and structures on the rail line.

1935 flood damage to railroad bridge in Watkins Glen State Park

After the great flood of 1935, the railroad bridge over the gorge in Watlkins Glen State Park was hanging over the gorge. Shortly thereafter, it fell into the gorge.

The railroad line to be used by Inergy passes through the state park and right by the campground. Noise is already an issue in the park, with the existing rail traffic and with noise from the Watkins Glen race track. Most visitors walk the Gorge Trail. The railroad trestle passes right over the gorge and the end of the Gorge Trail in a section of the park known originally as Glen Facility for its tranquility. The train also passes right by the picnic area in the Upper Park. Increasing train traffic will degrade the aesthetic experience of park visitors on a daily basis. The dSEIS does not address this impact nor does it discuss how to mitigate it. Because of the statewide significance of this outstanding state park, it is imperative that the dSEIS adequately address this issue, which at present it does not.


Campground at Watkins Glen State Park

The campground at Watkins Glen State Park is one of the loveliest in the region. Increased rail traffic on the nearby bridge will create more noise pollution for campers every day.

At the other end of the state park is the Main Entrance on Route 14 in the Village of Watkins Glen. This road is already busy with truck traffic that interferes with the thousands of tourists that try to navigate the streets on a typical summer day. Adding more trucks carrying LPG will only add to the truck congestion in the village and at the entrance to the state park. Large trucks are very noisy, having considerable impact on the Main Entrance of the park, where the walk through the Glen begins. The dSEIS does not address this impact in either its transportation impacts section or its noise impacts section. This is a very important issue that has been raised by others, but apparently either dismissed or ignored by DEC and Inergy.

Watkins Glen State Park entrance

Truck traffic on Route 14 already creates unacceptable levels of noise in the Main Entrance to Watkins Glen State Park in the Village of Watkins Glen. Notice the large truck in the right center of the picture. The LPG complex would increase this traffic noise (and congestion)..

With the opening of Watkins Glen as a scenic destination in the 1860s, the principal economy of Watkins Glen changed from agriculture and shipping to tourism, and it has remained that way since. This huge gas storage facility will significantly industrialize the experience of potential visitors to the lake, the town, and the state park. It risks seriously compromising the attractions that Watkins Glen has relied on since the Civil War. This massive, noisy, traffic-increasing, dangerous project is simply incompatible with the scenic, rural character of Seneca Lake and the Catharine Valley, including Watkins Glen State Park, an aesthetic resource of statewide significance. It threatens to seriously damage what has brought people here from all over the world since the tourist trains and steamboats brought them here in the 19th century.”

Morvalden Ells guidebook drawing of Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen has been an attraction and economic asset to the community since 1863. Indeed, the village was renamed after the famous ravine.

There are many other serious concerns about this large and potentially dangerous industrial development that others have addressed. For more information, see Gas Free Seneca.