The smell of money was in the air.
In December 2015, with great fanfare, Millennium Pipeline announced its Eastern System Upgrade. They boasted that they would be spending $275,000,000 on the …
The smell of money was in the air.
In December 2015, with great fanfare, Millennium Pipeline announced its Eastern System Upgrade. They boasted that they would be spending $275,000,000 on the project, which would consist of a new compressor station in the Town of Highland, a second compressor in the Town of Hancock and an additional pipeline in Orange County. Their previous upgrade, in 2008, had inexplicably been granted extended tax breaks from the Sullivan County IDA, despite creating zero permanent jobs. With great pride, Millennium declared that it would not be seeking tax breaks this time around and that the project would be a boon for jobs in the county.
Millennium’s spokeswoman, Michelle Smith Hook, showed up at local events with big checks for local charities. Well, not exactly. The checks were large in size, not in amount—big cardboard blow-ups that a group could crowd around for a photo-op. Town leaders’ pet charities were targeted by Millennium and money was gladly accepted. Photos were widely shared on social media. The pipeline company poured even more cash into a public relations campaign designed to suppress public opposition at critical junctures in the state approval process.
At the demands of angry constituents, resolutions in opposition were reluctantly passed by town boards. Representatives at the county and state level (notably Scott Samuelson and Aileen Gunther) inexplicably turned a blind eye and deaf ear, spitting in the face of overwhelming public opposition. The fix, however, was in. Millennium’s project was rubber-stamped by FERC, the federal agency whose edicts supersede local law.
The project, sited next to the Eldred Preserve (which leased Millennium additional acreage and is itself the beneficiary of long-term tax abatements granted by the IDA), was completed in the fall of 2018, predominantly by out of state firms and workers. The facility, largely controlled remotely, created only two maintenance jobs.
Millennium granted the financially strapped town and school a one-time “gift” that filled public coffers and mollified disgruntled taxpayers. Shortly after, the Highland Lake Fire Department was given money to purchase an ATV, providing the pipeline company yet another shareable social media photo-op.
Now, however, Millennium has finally revealed their true intentions. No longer in need of any community support, they are suing the town over their property tax assessment. They laughably claim that their facility is only valued at $27,600,000, not the $86,326,200 determined by Highland’s town assessor. A reduction in value that large would rob Highland and the county of $772,032.37. Whatever monies Millennium “gifted” to the town and local charities are negligible by comparison. The citizens and elected officials who embraced Millennium’s alleged generosity and good intentions have been badly duped.
Should Millennium succeed in their suit against the town, there will be many losers. Every taxpayer will be called upon to pay more, both here and at the county level. The school, and by extension its students, will have fewer resources. Since its completion, Millennium’s compressor, while pumping out a steady stream of invisible toxins and carcinogens, has earned the company millions.
Next time Millennium comes around with a “big” check, everyone should be able to see it for what it really is: a public relations photo-op designed to burnish a polluter’s reputation and an integral part of a larger strategy to cheat us out of their tax obligations. Elected officials who are either too dim or willfully blind to see that should be voted out.
The smell of money is no longer in the air. Instead, it’s the stench of mercaptan*. Breathe deep.
George Billard is a filmmaker, entrepreneur and political activist living in Eldred, NY.
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* Mercaptan is also known as methanethiol and is a harmless but pungent-smelling gas which has been described as having the stench of rotting cabbages or smelly socks. It is often added to natural gas, which is colorless and odorless, to make it easier to detect.