Newly-formed coalition is among those opposed to allowing natural gas and propane storage facilities in former salt mines along Seneca Lake

As the state moves into what could be the final stage in permitting liquid propane gas storage in former salt mines along Seneca Lake, those against the plan are stepping up efforts to stop it.

Next week the state Department of Environmental Conservation holds an “issues conference,” which determines if the DEC will pursue further investigation of citizens’ concerns on the proposal's environment effects.

“This is the endgame,” said Doug Couchon, a key organizer of the “We Are Seneca Lake” group opposed to the plan. Couchon, who lives in Elmira, was a speaker at a rally Saturday in Geneva dubbed We Are Seneca Lake, Too.

Among the 300-plus protesters at the rally, which included speeches at City Hall and a march from Lakefront Park through downtown, was South Bristol resident Edgar Brown. Brown said he was encouraged by the rally and other developments putting pressure on the state to deny the permit.

“Awareness is growing, and there is an increasing feeling of solidarity,” said Brown.

At the issues conference on Feb. 12 in Horseheads, Chemung County, a judge will consider information presented by pre-approved individuals and groups on the environmental effects of the proposal by Houston-based Crestwood Midstream. From there, the judge could call for a full adjudication of the concerns, or could grant Crestwood the permit.

A recent development in the growing efforts to halt the project was the formation of Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and that organization’s Jan. 30 letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The coalition — representing wineries, vineyards and wine-related businesses from the Finger Lakes region — also participated in the push to prevent shale gas drilling in New York. Cuomo last year put the kibosh on drilling

“We view this Facility as a direct threat not only to Seneca Lake, but to the strong and growing tourism industry in the Finger Lakes,” stated the letter signed by the dozens of coalition members, including Will Ouweleen of Eagle Crest Vineyards, John Ingle of Heron Hill Winery; and Doug Hazlitt of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. The letter also pointed to data supporting a poor history of similar gas storage facilities in salt caverns nationwide, threatening safety and quality of life.

The Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition and other opponents say the permit would bring heavy industry, more truck traffic and unacceptable risk of catastrophic accidents to a region that thrives on tourism.

Brown expressed his feelings in a post for We Are Seneca Lake web page, saying that as the father of young sons, he wants them to “grow up to understand, love, and protect the Finger Lakes” and to model that commitment himself.

Brown added the larger story, however, is about the hundreds of thousands of local citizens who have chosen to create an exceptional quality of life for their families and future generations … in an area of “world class viticulture, cutting-edge organic agriculture, and sustainable ecotourism.”

“That is a beautiful story that corporate officials in ivory towers in Houston, Texas, can never possibly hope to understand,” he wrote. “There is no pocketbook deep enough to challenge and prevail against this kind of fierce, collective commitment.”