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Gas pipeline facility in Ithaca has uncleaned spills; now they want to expand it


Photo by Michael Smith/The Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, NY - A plan to expand the 200-mile Dominion natural gas pipeline that runs through Ithaca is in the works, but local activists are gearing up to fight it.

On Friday, Toxics Targeting, Inc., an environmental database firm in Ithaca, released a report detailing hazardous substance spill profiles obtained from the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) under the Freedom of Information Law. These profiles detail 13 incidents of toxic contamination involving the existing Dominion New Market pipeline -- two of them in Ithaca.

Walter Hang, CEO of Toxics Targeting is rallying environmental activists to try and shut down the expansion on the grounds that these pipelines are unsafe. Earlier this year, Toxics Targeting released a similar report, detailing 114 pipeline incidents -- leaks, spills, ruptures, explosions and other accidents that he says resulted in contamination of nearby waters, damage to the environment and even fatalities.

The two spills at the Ithaca location were relatively minor compared to some of the other incidents from the previous report. That is to say, nothing caught fire or exploded.

However, there is still a major concern about these spills -- they weren't cleaned up.

In one incident in 1998, "unknown heavy petroleum" had been dumped and affected nearby groundwater. The DEC report clearly notes that the cleanup standards were not met.

The other incident occurred in 1991, with waste oil found contaminating the soil after a tank was removed. The report says it is "unknown" if that was cleaned up properly.

"The danger is, if you have a historic dumping site, then the contamination can migrate under the ground. So it could very likely migrate into the adjoining wetlands areas."

"These contamination problems don't go away. The contamination is very persistent," Hang said, referencing other contamination issues in Ithaca such as Ithaca Gun, Nate's Floral Estates and Stone Quarry Apartments. "That's why these sites really should've been re-mediated in strict compliance right off the bat."

The expansion planned for pipeline would include adding new compressor and cooler units to existing facilities like the one in Ithaca, as well as adding two new stations across the state.

Hang is aiming to block the New Market pipeline expansion by calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to deny a Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the project. Basically, this certification shows that a project does not carry the risk of contaminating local water quality.

Hang says his data shows that they already have done just that, and so it is the governor's duty to deny the certification. His website includes a form letter that can be sent to Cuomo if you want to support the cause.

Hang says he has already collected over 100 letters to the governor. Toxics Targeting used the same approach and same legal precedent to successfully block the Constitution Pipeline, another major pipeline project planned for Pennsylvania and New York.

The public comment period ends on August 5.