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Petition seeks to stop propane storage moratorium

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Bob Long, president of Long Energy, speaks at the town board’s Dec. 8 public hearing. Contributed photo

COEYMANS — A petition with 243 signatures has been submitted to the town board seeking to prevent a proposed three-month moratorium on propane storage facilities.

The town board is considering adopting a resolution that would stop propane storage facilities for a three-month period as the town works to finetune the laws currently on the books.

The moratorium, if adopted, would halt the review process for an application filed by Long Energy, which merged with longtime local business Persico Oil in January, to build a propane trucking terminal on a vacant plot of land on Route 9W in the town’s commercial zoning district, according to a Dec. 1 letter from the company to its customers.

A public hearing was held by the town council Dec. 8 to gather comments on the issue.

“We have been delivering fuel, we have been servicing this area — heating, cooling, plumbing — for the town of Coeymans for decades,” said Bob Long, president of Long Energy. “We are not new to this area. We have an office right on Main Street here in Ravena.”

The company is looking to expand, Long added.

“I have no doubt that this project, if and when completed, will help the residents of Coeymans by keeping the overall propane pricing competitive in this town and in surrounding areas, and it will help to promote employment opportunities in the local job market,” Long said. “We are looking to grow. We are looking to continue to invest in this community and help it grow.”

Town Supervisor George McHugh said the moratorium is being considered so the town can take the time to add more specific language to the law currently on the books.

“The Coeymans town code currently does not define the term ‘trucking terminal,’ even though trucking terminal is a principal use in two of our zoning districts, that being C1P and C2P, both planned commercial,” McHugh said. “The Coeymans town code is also silent on bulk fuel storage facilities, fuel distribution terminals and propane truck terminals. These deficiencies in the town code were brought to light upon an application being made to site a large propane distribution truck terminal in Coeymans.”

If there is no specific definition of what constitutes a “truck terminal” in the code, the building department and planning board would be left to guess at the meaning of an ambiguous term, McHugh said.

Attorney James Warren, co-counsel for Long Energy, said town codes frequently do not have definitions on the books for every term in the law, and when that is the case, the common usage of the term is applied and that is not a reason to hold up the project.

“It’s suggested that if a term is not defined in the statute it’s a problem and it’s got to be defined, but it’s very common that a term is not defined in an ordinance,” Warren said. “It would become unwieldy if every possible term was defined. When that happens — when a term is not defined — the customary usage of the term is adopted.”

A “trucking terminal” in customary usage is defined as a facility where goods are transported by truck, stored temporarily, and then reloaded onto other trucks for distribution, Warren said.

Warren outlined the process that led to Thursday’s public hearing.

The application was filed in late August to build a propane distribution facility as a trucking terminal, which Warren said was a permitted use in the commercial zone. The town’s building inspector forwarded the application to the planning board for site plan review and the town’s engineering company, MJ Engineering, reviewed the site plan and made some recommended alterations, which the company agreed to and the planning board began the site plan review, Warren said.

“Then, our honored Mr. [George] McHugh filed an appeal to the zoning board of appeals. As an officer of the town, we understand that — this was not the town board’s appeal, it was not the town counsel’s appeal — Mr. McHugh filed as an officer of the town, as supervisor, which he is entitled to do,” Warren said.

If the town would argue that there are safety concerns with a propane storage facility, Warren agreed there could be safety issues with propane, but the town has tools and resources in place to address that, including the building inspector, building department, planning board and town engineer.

And there is a similar facility owned by another company also located in the town, Warren said.

“You’ve got a facility twice as big as that operating right now and has been for years,” Warren said. “It’s fine — I’m not criticizing that at all, the facility on Mountain Road Extension [has] four tanks. This will be one and maybe two, if things go well.”

Having competition among local businesses would be good for customers, he added.

“In my years in business, I found that there is no substitute for competition,” Warren said. “You can have good-faith dealings with your customers, you can have long-term relations, but nothing gets the customer the best deal like competition.”

“The ancient Romans had an expression — ‘cui bono.’ Who benefits? Who benefits from this?” Warren concluded. “Is this going to benefit the people and the township as a whole? Cui bono.”

Long Energy’s co-counsel Jon Crain with the firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna pointed out the company submitted a petition with nearly 250 signatures from residents who oppose the proposed moratorium.

“This moratorium is arbitrary and capricious. First, there is no legitimate purpose for it,” Crain said. “Towns can’t adopt a moratorium unless it is ‘a reasonable, necessary and limited response directed at addressing a genuine crisis or emergency… This is not a genuine crisis or emergency. A small propane trucking terminal on Route 9W, which is littered with other propane storage facilities with other industrial uses, does not create any public safety risk.”

The moratorium is directed at a specific project, which is not permitted under New York state law, Crain argued. He added that McHugh should recuse himself from the decision-making process because the moratorium is aimed at an appeal he filed.

“We believe strongly that this moratorium will be overturned by a court if it is adopted,” Crain said.

Beth Cary, an employee who works in Long Energy’s Ravena office, told the board the review process has been unfair.

“There have been so many roadblocks along the way,” Cary said.

She urged the town board to vote against imposing a moratorium and said the project has the support of many in the community who came to the office to sign the petition.

“Many of the individuals that came into our office elected you to be their voice and look out for the best interests of this community, and some of you even ran on the slogan ‘taxpayers deserve a local government that will listen and act, not obstruct,’” Cary told the town board. “At this time, the residents are asking you to listen and act by opposing this moratorium. Approving this moratorium is nothing more than obstructing a local family-owned business from expanding.”

Village resident Mark Deyo said the town should encourage longtime businesses to remain in the community.

“There are a lot of examples of larger companies coming in and buying up smaller family businesses that aged themselves out and they move out to larger areas, but this company has not chosen to do that — they chose to invest in our town and support the people that live in the community that were working for Persico,” Deyo said. “I think competition can only benefit the residents and not just competition in pricing, but in the quality of service that is provided when there are competitors.”

Randy Lent, who owns C.A. Albright & Sons on Route 9W in New Baltimore, said he supported the project and said he went through a similar dispute when he tried to expand his business a few years ago.

“I support Long Energy, and he’s my competition,” Lent said. “Like everyone said — competition is good. It gives everybody a fair chance at getting what they want to get. I was sitting in this seat three years ago and it’s not fair — it shouldn’t be going on and it should be stopped. If he wants to start a propane plant here so he continues in business, I think he should be able to. I think a moratorium is just another excuse.”

The town is following a similar process to what was done six years ago when a solar project by Hecate Energy was in the works, McHugh said. Under a previous administration, the town imposed a six-month moratorium on solar projects while the laws were fine tuned.

Resident Cindy Rowzee said the two are not similar — she argued the solar project was not as far along as the propane project.

“You did not delay Hecate by doing this six-month moratorium,” Rowzee responded. “You will be delaying this company by doing that, so I think that is wrong.”

No residents spoke at the public hearing in favor of the moratorium.

The proposal to impose a moratorium has been sent to the Albany County Planning Board for its review. That decision is not expected until Dec. 22, and the town board will not vote on the issue before the county issues its determination, McHugh said.

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