Compressor could turn election
Town of Tusten Councilwoman Brandi Merolla, a Democrat, is supporting Republican Rob Doherty in this year’s election for county legislators. Doherty is running against incumbent Democrat Scott Samuelson, who was formerly chair of the Sullivan County Legislature and is currently the representative for District One.
Merolla said in a social media post, “Recently, I met Rob Doherty and we spoke about some important regional issues. Rob believes the compressor station in Eldred is toxic to the community, unlike his opponent who happens to be invested in The Eldred Preserve project where the compressor is located. The health, safety and welfare of the public [are] of utmost importance to both Rob and [me]. Rob also pledges to attend town board meetings throughout the county in an effort to understand the needs of our residents and businesses. Samuelson has never once attended a board meeting in our town, and we’ve noticed. Rob also wants to help our farmers in many innovative ways. I fully support Rob Doherty for District 1 Legislator.”
She is hardly alone in her concern about the compressor station, which was publicly opposed by all three towns that are near it. The compressor station is hooked into issues of fossil fuel use, global climate change and local control over issues that impact the health and well-being of the community. The towns of Bethel, Highland and Tusten all passed zoning regulations that prohibited the installation of facilities used in conjunction with gas pumped from the earth using hydraulic fracturing. Of course, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has the power to override local zoning, and did so in this case, as they have done many times.
Recent history tells us that, when local officials oppose the will of the majority of people in an area, there can be a political price to pay. In the last election, many people thought Jonathan Rouis, then the representative of District Four, which includes the Village of Bloomingburg, was not fighting hard enough to stop the controversial development of Villages at Chestnut Ridge, and that perception may very well have cost him his seat.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda, who represented District Two, which includes Wurtsboro, just up the road from Bloomingburg, was also perceived by many as not taking sufficient action to stop the developer. She also lost her seat.
It turned out that residents’ suspicions about the developer Shalom Lamm were well-founded. He eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of voter fraud along with two of his associates. The locals say that was just one of many crimes.
In the last election in the Town of Tusten, a zoning issue may have played a role. In 2014, a woman named Joan Buto from Florida, attempted to purchase the Narrowsburg School and open a drug and alcohol rehab operation in it. The opposition from the community was immediate and intense. A community group quickly formed to oppose the plan. On the Tusten town council, only councilmember Ned Lang supported the effort. Lang narrowly lost the next election.
We now have the compressor station issue in an area of the county that has demonstrated a deep concern about the environment and human health. District One is comprised of the towns of Cochecton, Tusten, Bethel and part of Highland. Three of those towns have joined New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program.
Further, there is ample evidence to show that compressor stations are generally not good for communities. A organization called the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SPEHP) performed a health impact study of the Minisink Compressor Station in Orange County in 2015. The study claimed the facility was associated with increased instances of respiratory problems, nosebleeds, neurological problems, dermatological problems and other negative issues in the community.
The study also found elevated levels of very small particulate matter and that the health concerns reported by residents were likely associated with those elevated levels. SPEHP applied to conduct a full health impact study regarding the Eldred compressor station but Sullivan County Officials instead opted for a baseline study of existing conditions. That was not at all what the people who live near the facility had in mind.
There is also ample evidence to show that a compressor station can have a negative impact on property values. In 2015, tax assessors from the Town of Hancock agreed to decrease the real estate taxes on two homes near the compressor on Hungry Hill Road by 25%. The taxes on a third home were cut by 50%. Ultimately, Millennium Pipeline bought the house of one family, because no one wanted to live there.
All three of these compressor stations were fought by groups that wanted to prevent them from being built. They were unsuccessful because the laws in the U.S. regarding pipelines and energy companies are usually tilted in favor of the energy companies and not the people who must live near their compressor stations and power plants. That has lead to a lot of frustrated residents in District One.
It’s not clear if the voters will turn Samuleson out of office this year, but if they do, it will likely be related to the compressor station in Eldred.