Public Bridge Authority voce chaitman Sam Hoyt. (File photo.)
Public Bridge Authority voce chaitman Sam Hoyt. (File photo.)

The Public Record: Buffalo to Albany, Stopping in Fort Erie

by / Aug. 12, 2015 1am EST

BMHA lays off directors: The financially strapped Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has been making personnel changes, terminating some employees and demoting others, in an effort to control costs as the agency’s cash reserves dwindle, The Public has learned.

Multiple sources, all speaking on condition of anonymity, say key staff members have been removed from their positions and that their workloads have been relegated to outside firms or BMHA’s general counsel, David Rodriguez.

Not only has the authority been operating at a deficit in recent months, but hundreds of its apartments lie vacant, leading to the close scrutiny of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has designated BMHA’s management as “substandard” for two years in a row. 

The authority has submitted a turnaround plan to the federal agency and is now working to implement it, but HUD, which supplies most of the authority’s funding, has suggested that BMHA may fall into receivership if it doesn’t turn things around soon.

Rodriguez and the authority’s executive director, Dawn Sanders-Garrett, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. —JUSTIN SONDEL

Fracking, Round Two: In June, New York state put to rest a nearly seven-year-long debate about high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” when it banned the controversial process of drilling horizontally into the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, located largely in the state’s Southern Tier.

Now, a recent submission of two applications to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to drill a well using gelled propane instead of water could revive the fracking debate in New York.

Tioga Energy Partners LLC has proposed drilling a single well to first look at the geology of both the Marcellus and Utica formations. Once that is completed, that well will be closed and the drill will be turned sideways to drill through the Marcellus Shale to produce natural gas.

“It’s basically known as waterless fracking,” said Karen Moreau, executive director of the state Petroleum Council. “The whole study that was done in New York was a study of fracking using water and there’s certain issues that go along with using water. People don’t realize that fracking in general was not banned. The high-volume hydraulic fracturing requires the use of higher volumes of water than had done in the past.”

Adam Schultz, Tioga Energy Partners’ legal counsel in this case, argues gelled propane fracking falls under the 1992 Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program, which is the DEC’s program for regulating oil, gas, underground gas storage and solution mining wells of any depth, and brine disposal, stratigraphic, and geothermal wells deeper than 500 feet.

“We’ve proposed to use gelled propane as the fracturing fluid and that technology, that completion method, is evaluated under the 1992 GEIS that the DEC completed and is not subject to the 2015 GEIS that was recently completed [that banned high-volume hydraulic fracking],” Schultz said. “This project is entirely consistent with the 2015 study. Some people have talked about going around the ban or that it’s a loophole—it’s not.”

The alternative method has not appeased opponents of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

“We’ve learned through the emerging science on hydraulic fracturing over the last number of years—so much about the dangers and the risks it poses to people and communities,” said John Armstrong, statewide grass-roots coordinator at Frack Action. “While not hydraulic fracturing, propane fracking shares many of those same dangers and harms to people in those communities.”

Environmentalists argue gelled propane fracking still causes air pollution and increases the risk of earthquakes and water pollution.

“Fracking in general has been determined unsafe. It’s not just the water issue,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director for Environmental Advocates of New York. “Our concern would be across a panoply of issues that the governor and the health commissioner looked at when they deemed this unsafe for New York.”

Now that the permit applications have been submitted, Schultz outlined two likely possibilities for what will happen next.

One possibility is that the state DEC could determine that, based on the application’s compliance with the 1992 GEIS and the additional information that was submitted with the permit application, no further environmental review is necessary and gelled propane fracking is allowed.

The second possibility would be that the state DEC determines there are issues with the new process they’d like to see more closely examined, which would be done through an environmental impact statement. The DEC has no time frame to make its preliminary decision. —ASHLEY HUPFL

Peace Bridge board members at war again: Animosity between the American and Canadian leadership of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority has raged for years, and while the settlement of a recent legal battle marks an end to the latest round of fighting, the blood is still boiling, with board vice chairman Sam Hoyt arguing that a planned junket to Ireland—the latest in a string of international excursions—is a waste of authority money.

“It’s my opinion that it’s unnecessary for multiple members of the board to go on these trips,” said Hoyt, a former New York state assemblyman. “That’s why I and the US members of the board are advocating for a change in policy.”

Earlier this summer, Hoyt submitted a resolution calling for all authority members and employees to adhere to New York’s travel and conference policies, which require travel in coach accommodations, prohibit the accompaniment of spouses at authority expense, and only allow for “reasonable meal expenses.”

In addition, Hoyt called for board members to submit reports explaining the rationale behind all trips outside Western New York or southern Ontario.

But while the resolution received the full support of the American contingent, not a single Canadian board member voted in favor, and it fell flat. Hoyt has said he plans to raise the issue again.

“This is money that belongs to people who pay the tolls at the bridge,” he said. “It shouldn’t be spent on expensive trips to Europe and other places in the United States and Canada.” —JS

Justin Sondel and Ashley Hupfl appear via a content-sharing agreement between The Public and City & State.