Dan Hust | Democrat
Sullivan County Deputy Fire Coordinator Jack Halchak, standing, explains the Bureau of Fire’s approach to gas line emergencies during Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting of the Legislature. Sitting in the back far right is Jessica Kenyon, a Long Eddy resident whose family had to temporarily evacuate while Millennium Pipeline workers responded to a compressor station construction accident.
Millenium Pipeline accident spurs debate at Legislature
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO December 17, 2013 Accompanied by leaders of the advocacy group Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Long Eddy resident Jessica Kenyon attended the Public Safety Committee meeting to talk about a Millennium Pipeline construction accident which forced her and her family to spend the night at a relative’s home.
The night of December 5, pipeline workers advised the Kenyons that an unanticipated venting of the pipeline (caused by an accident connecting a coming compressor station’s loop line) would be very loud and that they should temporarily evacuate.
After they left, workers vented 10 miles’ worth of the pipeline’s supply of methane.
The Kenyons returned home the next day without incident, but Jessica Kenyon remains concerned with how the incident was handled.
“I was told, ‘You’ve got 10 minutes, or you’re not getting out.’ ... We were the only ones told to leave,” she recalled. “There was no ambulance, no fire department, no State Police, no Sheriff, no nothing.”
And she’s worried this might reoccur.
“I still, every day, have to tell my son, ‘I can’t promise this won’t happen again’,” she said, tearing up as she spoke.
Though their home is in Delaware County, Kenyon said, “I feel Sullivan County legislators are more concerned than our Delaware County [representatives].”
Sullivan County Bureau of Fire deputy fire coordinators Bill Lothrop and Jack Halchak, however, affirmed this really is a Delaware County issue.
The Long Eddy Fire Department, for example, is based in Sullivan County but has to answer to Delaware County officials for incidents within the neighboring county’s boundaries, said Lothrop.
“There is a jurisdictional split there,” he remarked.
Legislators like Cindy Gieger worried about the coming compressor stations on either side of the county the aforementioned one in Hancock and another in Orange County, both just a few miles from the border.
“This is absolutely the forum to discuss [whether] we have all our emergency plans in a row,” she remarked.
Deputy Fire Coordinator Joe Mellan acknowledged there’s no emergency response plan yet created for the compressor stations, as they remain under construction, but he did say that in addition to the standard mutual aid agreement with surrounding fire departments, there is a response plan for the pipeline as a whole, which runs through all of western and southern Sullivan County.
“In the 47 years I’ve been a firefighter in a district which the pipeline runs through,” Mellan added, “we’ve never had an incident.”
Nevertheless, Halchak said the recent accident has resulted in a new email notification policy between the pipeline company and emergency responders.
As the discussion progressed, however, tensions ratcheted up between Bureau of Fire officials and Catskill Citizens representatives, who argued over what kind of gases beyond methane may have been released in the venting, and whether or not the response of a foam truck (which Long Eddy FD does not have) would have been an appropriate or inappropriate response, especially if a fire had broken out.
Lothrop continued to urge the Kenyons to discuss the matter with Delaware County officials, who have jurisdiction, plus the gas company. And Halchak added that local firefighters have been trained in dealing with gas emergencies, some of that through Millennium.
That didn’t satisfy Catskills Citizens’ Bruce Ferguson, however, who afterwards wrote Committee Chair Cora Edwards, “Sullivan County's first responders, including the Long Eddy Fire Department, must be given the training and equipment they need to respond [to] the kind of emergencies that could occur on Hungry Hill; and the Millennium Pipeline Company, not Sullivan County taxpayers, should bear the costs associated with these protective measures.”