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Another Voice: Allegany State Park gas lease should be renewed, with limits

By John Gilewicz

More than 1 million people a year make a trek to a Western New York landmark every year. They spend anywhere from a few hours to a week or more visiting one of New York’s greatest wonders. No, not Niagara Falls: Allegany State Park.

This 67,000-acre park is arguably New York’s wildest and most primitive of all. And yet somehow, we – the owners – manage to keep it beautiful, secure and readily available to those million people, year after year.

Several years ago, the citizens of New York agreed to protect Allegany by passing a final master plan for the park, securing the future of the largest state park in the entire system.

Now we are faced with another challenge to the park. In 1964, in a different time and a different era, New York State entered into a lease agreement to allow for the creation of an underground natural gas storage facility within Allegany State Park called the Limestone Gas Storage Facility.

The state leased 9,000 acres and allowed for the creation of a network of roads, pipelines and wellheads to permit the injection of gas below ground until such time as it was needed and withdrawn.

In 2014, the lease expired. In order to determine the future of the park and evaluate the need for an extension of the lease, Albany deferred a long-term renewal for a year to allow for a considered evaluation. In the past year, National Fuel has pressed for an increase in gas storage of 5 billion cubic feet and an expansion of the well field. To his enormous credit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wisely rejected this approach, despite the political costs and pressure generated by lobbyists.

The Adirondack Mountain Club and its 28,000 members understand the need to renew this lease as we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. It is necessary in order to meet the needs of the Southern Tier and the businesses that rely on that energy source. We encourage the governor to approve a 15-year lease renewal, as proposed, with no expansion of the storage field.

We are also calling on Cuomo, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and National Fuel Gas President Ronald Tanski to agree that at the end of the lease, National Fuel will, without fail, vacate the park entirely, remove all vestiges of the Limestone Gas Storage Facility from within the park and return the 9,000 acres to its rightful owners – the residents of New York and the generations of those yet to be.

We encourage everyone to join us in this effort to regain one of our greatest public treasures. You can send comments by email until March 31 to www.Alleganylease@parks.ny.gov or through the ADK website at adk.org under the Advocacy Action Alerts tab.

John Gilewicz is president of the Adirondack Mountain Club.