Painted Post Lawsuit
(Updated: "Citizens' Challenge to Painted Post Municipal Water Sale Upheld." See below for more)
Sierra Club, et. al., v. Village of Painted Post, et. al., filed June 25, 2012
The Atlantic Chapter of Sierra Club has joined with two other groups and five individuals in a suit challenging bulk water exports by the Village of Painted Post for use in hydrofracking.
The chair of the Finger Lakes Group, Kate Bartholomew from Montour Falls, said, "The Sierra Club joins in bringing this suit in order to protect the Club's members in New York and Pennsylvania from the consequences of water sales agreements of this type. The village agreed to sell up to 1,500,000 gallons of water per day from the local aquifer for export to Pennsylvania for use in hydrofracking gas wells.
“The consequences of removing such large quantities of water from the local hydrological system were not considered by the village. Furthermore, the village did not consider traffic, noise and air quality impacts in the either village or in Wellsboro, PA, the terminus of the project. The village should have considered all these impacts in its environmental review, but it did not."
The suit seeks to annul a water sales agreement and the lease of land for a water loading facility signed by the Village in March and to enjoin the Village from making water sales or leasing land for a water loading facility until the Village has completed a full environmental review of the project and complies with all applicable laws.
"I'm concerned about harm to our drinking water," said Michael Finneran, an individual petitioner who lives in the village. "The large withdrawals planned for this project will depress our local water table and draw water for recharge from surrounding sources. Some of these surrounding waters may be more salty or contaminated with chemicals and drawing them into our wells may require costly changes to our local water treatment system."
"I am especially concerned about harms to the children who live here if our drinking water is depleted or contaminated as a result of this project," said Therese Finneran, another individual petitioner.
"Although area industries have used large volumes of water in the past, the water used was returned to local rivers, and was available to recharge local aquifers," said petitioner Jean Wosinski from Corning. Wosinski is a retired geologist, who worked in the USGS Water Resources Division, for almost five years. "The consequences of removing large quantities of water from the local hydrological system have not been considered by the village. The cumulative impacts of other exports from the aquifer also should have been considered," Wosinski said.
"Gas corporations are targeting municipalities for water purchases because the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are taking a hands-off position regarding municipal water sales," said Jack Ossont of Himrod, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect New York.
"The SRBC has put new applications for water withdrawals in New York on hold, but they are not applying this hold to municipal water sales. The failure of either the SRBC or the DEC to scrutinize the village's bulk water sales gives us great concern. Both the SRBC and the DEC have told us that they are deferring to the municipal water permit first issued to the village in 1909 and last amended in 1978. This places a great deal of responsibility on the village to properly consider possible impacts of its proposed withdrawals," Ossont said.
"Last Thursday, the SRBC announced that it has suspended a number of approved water withdrawals due to localized stream flow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna River basin," Jeanne Fudala of Alpine, a board member of People for a Healthy Environment, pointed out, "But since the SRBC is not approving Painted Post's withdrawals, they are not in a position to suspend approval of those withdrawals. The Painted Post water wells are among the most productive in the aquifer. If the village continues to draw from those wells despite low water levels in the river and other parts of the aquifer, they could cause substantial harm," Fudala said.
"We are organizing a big event in August to help build awareness of how all the waters in this area are connected," said Fudala.
The petitioners are represented by attorney Richard J. Lippes of Buffalo, assisted by attorney Rachel Treichler from Hammondsport. Mr. Lippes is a seasoned environmental litigator. He has challenged the siting of gas pipelines, landfills, highways and wind farms in sensitive areas, and is currently advising GasFree Seneca on a possible legal challenge to the LPG storage facility in Watkins Glen.
Petitioners are seeking contributions to help defray the legal costs for the suit. Donations for legal costs may be made toPeople for a Healthy Environment, Inc., the Coalition to Protect New York or to the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Fracking Fund.
An Article 78 petition was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Bath against the village, SWEPI, LP and the Wellsboro & Corning Railroad, LLC. A hearing was scheduled for July 23.
For information about the work of the petitioners:
Updated (April 2013): Citizens' Challenge to Painted Post Municipal Water Sale Upheld
NYS Supreme Court Judge rules that Village skipped necessary reviews
(Press Release here, pdf)
Citizens across New York cheered last week when a New York State Supreme Court judge annulled the bulk water sale agreement between the Village of Painted Post in Steuben County and a Shell Oil affiliate, SWEPI, LP.
On March 25, Monroe County Justice Kenneth R. Fisher issued his decision voiding the agreement and enjoining any further shipments because the Village had not done the required environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
Five individual petitioners, along with the Sierra Club, whose local members were active in the suit, and two grassroots groups, People for a Healthy Environment, Inc. and the Coalition to Protect New York, brought the Article 78 proceeding, Sierra Club et al. v. Painted Post et al., in June 2012.
"We've been concerned about impacts on local drinking water supplies since we first heard about the plans of the Village Board to sell water," said Virginia Hauff from Painted Post, one of the individual petitioners. "We urged the Board to look into the environmental impacts of the withdrawals before signing the sale agreement. We're glad the judge determined that the law requires such a review."
"This decision has an impact beyond Painted Post," pointed out Kate Bartholomew of Montour Falls, chair of the Finger Lakes Group of the Sierra Club. "The decision puts other New York municipalities on notice that bulk water sales are not exempt from review under SEQRA."
Bartholomew, a certified science teacher and member of the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning Board, said she was baffled that the Village decided to engage in bulk water sales without a thorough, long-term study of the impact large exports would have on the relatively shallow glacial-till-filled Corning aquifer.
"Now that Painted Post has been ordered to do a proper environmental review," she said, "our next steps are to work with the Village Board to help them consider the cumulative impacts on the aquifer." (read more of the press release here)