You are here

Court puts temporary stop to Fenton natural gas station development


NG Advantage representatives tried to allay fears expressed by Town of Fenton residents who say the company's natural gas transfer station poses a potential threat to the health and safety of neighbors.

A judge's order has halted construction on a Town of Fenton natural gas transfer station just as developers try to allay fears voiced by opponents who claim the project poses serious hazards.

A state Supreme Court judge ordered NG Advantage and the Town of Fenton Planning Board to respond to claims in a 127-page lawsuit brought by the Chenango Valley Central School District that claims the project review process was flawed.

NG Advantage CEO Rico Biasetti said he was disappointed by the stop-work order, but expressed confidence the transfer station will eventually get the go-ahead after a full court review.

"The fact remains that NG Advantage has a perfect safety record and we have been and will continue to be completely transparent and honest with the community during every step of the process," Biasetti said. "No amount of scare tactics from opponents changes that.”

All responding papers are due in court by July 12, with a court hearing in front of Judge Ferris Lebous at 1:30 p.m. July 18 in State Supreme Court in Binghamton.

Construction workers have been on-site for about two weeks preparing the parcel that lies between the Chenango River and the West Service Road — north of the Port Dickinson Community Park — for a 12-bay filling station that will tap the Millennium Pipeline. Gas will be trucked in specially designed trailers to supply natural gas to customers without access to a pipeline.

The work stoppage came hours before developers hosted two information sessions at Port Crane Fire Department Hall on Wednesday evening.

In an introductory Tuesday session at an American Legion just a half-mile north of construction, about 60 residents spent nearly two hours grilling company representatives about the project.

Developers say they want to limit the operation's impact on the community and sought to assure an uncertain public safety is a priority.

"We've heard the term 'bomb trucks,' just not the case," said Gerry Myers, chief operating officer of NG Advantage, the Colchester, Vermont, company investing $8 million to transform a former junkyard into a natural gas filling station.

Myers said the company is open to negotiating with officials to limit truck traffic during peak hours, and is willing to discuss other options to address community concerns.

"We're not going to convince everyone, but we want to be honest with everyone," said Myers, addressing about 60 people in attending the meeting.

Each information session is by invitation only because Myers said the company wants to speak directly to those affected by the development rather than debating the larger issue of the advisability of expanding the natural gas infrastructure with parties from beyond the Town of Fenton.

Bottom line, Myers said, NG Advantage and companies like it are helping clients limit their carbon footprints by allowing them to convert from other more polluting fuel sources.

"The environmental advantage of using natural gas is beyond debate," Myers said.

Though most of the discussion among the community participants and the NG Advantage panel was amicable, there was clear frustration with the opaque nature of the Town of Fenton project review process from a portion of the audience.

"This came in by the back door," said Dave O'Neil from the Town of Fenton. "No one wants it here."

Myers, however, said discussions with the Town of Fenton began as early as January, and he could not explain why project details were not fully disclosed earlier in the process.

Residents asked Myers and his associates to be sympathetic to their concerns because of the community's past experiences with a Superfund site and a suspected cancer cluster from a toxic plume.

Don McDufee, left, and Kurt Mohney protest the construction of a natural gas transfer station in the Town of Fenton before a community meeting by project sponsors, NG Advantage
(Photo: Jeff Platsky/Staff photo)

"We have a concern for our community," said Joela Andersen, of Fenton, noting that those who oppose the project are only attempting to guard nearby residents from similar incidents.

Company representative sought to ease the anxiety about the hazards of the development. Loading natural gas for transport is a relatively safe process, Myers said, through he did acknowledge there were three leaks from the company's Milton, Vermont, transfer station that required firefighter response and limited evacuations.

In the unlikely event of a leak from a transfer station, the gas rises into the atmosphere and disperses quickly, panelists said.

"I am extremely comfortable with the concept because I know the hazard is going up and it's not going to hang around," said Chris Christophoulos, fire chief for Lebanon, New Hampshire, one the of experts NG Advantage brought in to address safety issues.

Traffic concerns are real, Myers acknowledged, but the company is forced to use the West Service Road to access highways because of weight limits on local roads and the preference expressed by the New York state Department of Transportation.

"The traffic is just going to be awful," said Mary McMahon, who lives nearby.

At peak season — December, January and February — he expects up to a maximum of 100 trucks daily entering and exiting the site, and in the range of 40 trucks daily in other months.

Noise concerns, he said, are largely unfounded because the 12 electric compressors on-site will be barely noticed above the ambient noise from the nearby roadways.

When complete, the operation will employ 150 people and pay approximately $75,000 in property taxes.

Representatives of the Colchester, Vermont, sponsor say they hope the explanations provided by a panel of experts will provide a clear and concise project overview and clear up misconceptions.

Public sessions by NG Advantage follow two lawsuits that have been filed seeking to halt the project, one from a group of nearby residents and another initiated by the Chenango Valley Central School District.

The Town of Fenton transfer station will be the second in the region. Last year, a similar operation opened in Pennsylvania's Forest Lake Township, about 25 miles southwest of Binghamton. Trucks loaded with compressed natural gas from the Marcellus Shale now regularly travel Broome County roads as trailers with XNG logos deliver the commodity to customers within a day's drive.

Known as "virtual pipelines," the transfer stations load compressed natural gas into specially designed trailers for transport to customers without access to pipelines, allowing industrial and commercial clients to convert to a less expensive alternative than fuel oil or propane.