LIVINGSTON COUNTY – After months of negotiations, Livingston County is on the verge of an agreement with the insurance agent of the former Akzo Nobel Salt mine, Zurich Insurance, for an estimated $20 million.
Under the proposed agreement, Akzo Nobel would pay the county $17 million and New York State $3 million. The State’s share would go to pay $50,000 a year to monitor the former salt mine, which collapsed in 1994.
“We had two options: be a part of the agreement, or be left out,” said Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle. “I think that the county was able to extract as much benefit as possible given the situation.”
One of the key parts of the agreement is that the former desalination plant will be disassembled and removed, so that it cannot be used to treat toxic fluid byproducts from hydrofracking, which the insurer has admitted to doing previously without county notification or consent.
The Livingston County Board of Supervisors will hold a Special Meeting on Tuesday, December 23, 2014, at 1:30 P.M. in the Board of Supervisors Assembly Room, Livingston County Government Center, 6 Court Street, Geneseo, New York. The board will consider authorizing the Board Chairman to accept one of two options: (1) a Letter of Agreement with the State; or (2) an Order of Consent and Administrative Settlement Agreement with AKZO Nobel, Inc. and the State of New York
According to Coyle, New York State has the statutory authority and responsibility to protect water resources. However, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has classified the pre-mine collapse quality of the lower aquifer as only suitable for salt production. Subsequently the DEC, with the consent of the State Attorney General’s Office, lifted the consent order requiring AKZO to pump brine to prevent it from entering the lower aquifer. Coyle said that from the County perspective options are limited, and continuation of the pumping would require the County itself to commence litigation against AKZO. This would be a costly endeavor, with existing expert opinion already on record that continued pumping provides no further benefit. Additionally, the County has questionable legal standing to sue AKZO over contamination of what are essentially State water aquifers.
Coyle said that the Board of Supervisors is being presented with two options:
1) Allow AKZO to enter into an agreement with just the State of New York, in which the State would release all current and future claims against the company and allow the company to walk away, leaving the future use of the plant up in the air with respect to the treatment of fracking fluid. Under this option, the County would retain very limited rights to commence future actions. Furthermore, no settlement proceeds would be directed to the County for the direct, targeted benefit of residents in the areas impacted by the salt mine collapse.
2) Participate with the State of New York in the AKZO agreement and release what limited claims we may have. With this option, Coyle said, we can assure, via legal binding agreement, that the plant will be dismantled and removed, thereby ending the fracking fluid treatment threat present if the plant were to remain in place. The County would also receive $17 million to establish a contingency fund to benefit the area affected by the mine collapse, which could be used for infrastructure projects, water protection projects, and the like. This option also includes an additional $3 million dollar fund to be managed and maintained by the State, for subsidence testing and groundwater/well monitoring to provide an early warning system for future changes in mine conditions.
Residents with questions, concerns, or comments are encouraged to contact their Town Supervisor before Tuesday’s Board meeting. No time has been set aside during the meeting itself for public comment.
PHOTO CAPTION: The Desalination plant at the site of the former AkzoNobel mine. (Photo/ Josh Williams)