Letters to the Editor

by / Jul. 19, 2017 7am EST

When Close-to-home Governments Fail…

“The government closest to the people serves the people best.”  So goes a popular myth.

With their drinking water supply at risk from construction of National Fuel’s proposed Northern Access natural gas pipeline, how well have Erie County Southtown governments served their residents?

In 1987 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the Cattaraugus Creek Basin Aquifer to be the sole source of drinking water for 20,000 people in Delevan, Freedom, Machias, Yorkshire, Chaffee, Springville, Sardinia, and Arcade.

These communities, warned EPA, “Are entirely dependent upon ground water for their drinking water supply.  If substantial contamination were to occur, it would create a significant hazard to public health…”  

Because the aquifer’s water recharge sand and gravel deposits are, according to the EPA report, “exposed at land surface, it is potentially susceptible to contamination from surface sources [such as] septic tanks, fertilizer or other surface sources.”  For 12.8 miles the proposed pipeline would clear a 75 foot wide right-of-way through this recharge area and then, using heavy construction equipment, excavate a deep trench to bury a 24 inch pipeline. 

It seems no one is taking the risk to the aquifer seriously.     

Not the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington.  FERC’s Pollyanna response is don’t worry, the “Pipeline construction activities are not likely to result in significant impacts on groundwater resources…The direct and indirect impacts would be temporary and would not significantly affect groundwater resources.” 

 Not the Department of Environmental Conservation in Albany. It’s denial of a required water quality permit is based on the pipeline’s unacceptable damages to 192 state-regulated streams and wetlands habitats along the pipeline’s route— without any mention of risks to the aquifer.  National Fuel is challenging the permit denial in court. 

Not even Erie County’s government.   Once it was learned the pipeline’s original path would put two public parklands at risk, county officials promptly told National Fuel, “No way,” and National Fuel rerouted the pipeline.  No mention of the aquifer.

How about the towns and villages?  One town supervisor told me, “Localities have little say in the matter. At this time the town will be undertaking no action.” 

While town and village officials don’t have the authority to block the pipeline, New York law certainly assigns to them the responsibility to promote the health, safety and general welfare of their residents and their property in other ways.  Why have they not:

  • Called upon National Fuel to relocate its proposed pipeline out of the aquifer zone.  If Erie County officials could successfully protect their parklands, surely a joint effort of officials in communities dependent on the aquifer could have done the same;
  • Insisted on the addition of stringent environmental oversight and safeguards during construction and operation of the pipeline; 
  • Passed resolutions to publically place responsibility on National Fuel for future damage to the aquifer resulting from the construction and operation of the pipeline. 

Rural communities may do a good job collecting trash, plowing snowy roads and other routine tasks.  But, when faced with a well-documented risk to the well-being of thousands of Southtowners, the governments closest to the people have failed, so far, to stand up and be counted.

Ronald Fraser

Ronald Fraser, a former land use planner, lives in the Town of Colden.

An “I” for an “I”?

I am a hedgehog. I know one big thing. That thing is that the articles appearing all over the world about “the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party” will not be going away any time soon.

“Chris Collins’ Trump Gambit” in The Public (June 28, 2017) told us all we need to know about that “soul” and that “fight.” It also tells us that a candidate with “Democrat” behind his/her name starts at a big disadvantage in the 27th Congressional District next year.

There is also (on a much smaller scale) a battle for ownership of the GOP. But in the 27th, that battle has already been won—by the extreme right wing of the party. One thing I would bet the ranch on is that Chris Collins will not be challenged by another Republican.

Yet it is bound to be the case that a great many of the people who are registered as Republican in the district have been to some degree disturbed by Collins’s behavior. Just as was the case when he ran for re-election as Erie County Executive, a great many steps he took when he had power will be seen as deplorable by people who had voted for him four years earlier.

The person who will take the 27th District away from the GOP will be someone with Inter alongside his/her name. It will stand for “Interdependent.” Unless the local Democrats were so foolish as to run a candidate as well.

The surest sign that political parties in the U.S. are in big trouble is that in last year’s presidential campaigns the candidates for both main party nominations who received (by far) the most support from people-who-were-new-to-politics were insurgents.

It is a waste of time and energy to argue about whether Bernie Sanders would have won if he had received the Democratic nomination. But it is not useless to point out that a man who has still not joined the Democratic Party (and probably never will – why should he?) almost made it to the Democratic nomination.

I firmly believe that if a fully qualified person were to announce an intention to run against Collins as an Inter, all kinds of support would come in from all over Erie County. All over the nation. All over the world. And it would lead to victory.

Because however many Republicans are still committed to Trump in 2018 there will be many Republicans who are not. And the race for Collins’s seat will be seen as a referendum on the state of the Union. Correctly so.

“Mr or Ms Inter” will not be running against just an inept and faltering politician called Chris Collins—s/he will be running against two other men as well—a certain Donald Trump and a certain Carl Paladino.

I am aware that the 27th District voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. But it surely does not make sense to think that support for him has increased since then. Why would it? And the same is true for dear old, loveable old, Carl.

A lot of people in the 27th read the Buffalo News and watch the local news on local TV stations.  Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have bigger fish to fry than Collins. Whereas the people who live in CD 27 will welcome being in the limelight—especially those who believe that Trump is a menace and Collins is a fraud and Paladino is a creep. There are many thousands of them.

Even with the party in disarray, the Democrats shifted the vote in Newt Gingrich’s old district by more than ten percentage points. That is relevant. The need for re-thinking is palpable.

In fact, in my opinion, there is, in the 27th, a clear question for the Democrats in Erie County: Which is more important: losing to Collins by a smaller margin than last time, or reducing the number of Republicans in the House of Representatives?

We will find out when “Mr. or Ms. Inter” makes an announcement. The sooner s/he does that, the better it will be for decency and the rule of law.

(Indie = Independent. Inter = Interdependent – which, after all, is what we all are.)

Peter Smith

Peter Smith is former dean of the School of Arts a Columbia University.