The State DEC announced this week that it is granting permits for shutdown of the Culyerville desalination plant, built to mitigate the environmental impact from the disastrous collapse of the AkzoNobel salt mine in 1992. There has been no disclosure from Livingston County officials yet of the money settlement on the table. Local officials have said that they are not interested in plant closure and a monetary settlement, and would rather see the plant continue to function.
The GeneseeSun first broke this story months ago, when Avon Town Supervisor David Lefeber broke ranks and spoke publicly on the matter, against the will of county officials, because he no longer trusted the AG’s office and was suspicious of their intentions. He hit the nail on the head. And shortly after the story broke here, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester covered it as well, with some substantial investigative journalism and back story.
At one point since the story first broke, during a public hearing, representatives from the Cuomo-led Attorney General’s Office sat in the audience. Among them was Tim Hoffman, who back in the 90’s brokered the original Memorandum of Understanding that established the responsibilities of AkzoNobel and their insurer, Zurich. We watched Hoffman just months ago as he sat in the audience and rolled his eyes at those who voiced distrust of the system.
AkzoNobel has repeatedly exploited and treated this area badly. Their greed is what led to the original mine collapse in the early 1990s, when they changed the dimensions of the pillars left behind in the mining process to support the cavern roof. AkzoNobel and Zurich claim they operate the desalination plant at a loss of 200k a month, but the claim is undocumented. And it should be kept in mind that the plant was not intended to be a profit-making venture in the first place; its purpose is to control damage to the environment and manage a problem that the company itself created through its operations. And sources at the plant have stated they have only been operating at 30 percent of capacity.
AkzoNobel and their insurers have an established track record of disregard for human safety, the environment, and area natural resources. Now we learn that, as local officials feared, the DEC and the NY State Attorney General’s office have cut a new deal with Zurich behind closed doors. A done deal. And there’s no “plan B” for what could happen if the engineering study they bought and paid for, justifying the deal, proves wrong.
This whole deal stinks like a rat. What can we do as citizens? Well, we need to get angry. Call Governor Cuomo, and call your state legislators. Write them. Share your concern on Facebook. Make some noise. If we as community don’t care enough to stand up for ourselves, and for our own natural resources, then how can we expect others to?
Cuomo keeps playing dodge ball on the hydrofracking issue while local politicians are at each other’s throats over the matter. Honestly, I’m not against hydrofracking per se. Safeguards need to be in place, though – real ones. The gas companies need to be held strictly accountable to the community, and not cut corners on proper safeguards to save a few bucks. And judging from how Albany has looked out for our interests in the case of the salt mine and the desalination plant, it’s a very bad sign indeed. We proceed with hydrofracking in Western New York at a great deal of risk – and the DEC and Albany can’t be trusted.
I keep asking officials, what am I missing here? As we spin our wheels trying to sort this out, our region has to deal with 30 lost jobs and a vast mine full of salt brine filling up under our feet, nicely nestled up against two massive water aquifers. Mining company experts state that it will be 2,000 years until the brine breaks ground. They, and AkzoNobel, and Zurich, and the DEC, and the State Attorney General’s Office, have no credibility. They cannot be trusted to look out for our environment or our interests, let alone to tell the truth.