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Environment, economy clash in upstate N.Y. election

A small-town election in the Finger Lakes region has potentially large consequences for the area’s environment — and its economy. Supporters of a plan to build a gas storage and distribution hub on the southwest end of Seneca Lake maintained control of Reading’s town board Tuesday by defeating a ticket of challengers opposed to the project. The challengers’ central issue was a plan from Crestwood Midstream Partners (CMLP) to repurpose abandoned salt mines under the lake shore to store liquid propane and expand existing natural gas storage.

The expansion is expected to be part of of a regional storage and distribution hub for shale gas, whose extraction is a different contentious issue, that is coming from Pennsylvania and Ohio to markets in the Northeast. The facility would be connected to an interstate pipeline with options to ship via truck and rail.

A ticket of challengers for two town supervisor positions and two open council seats said the plan would violate land-use laws, present health and environmental threats to the community, and mar the region’s natural beauty and culture central to a thriving tourism industry. A group called Concerned Citizens of Reading backed them. All of those candidates lost by wide margins. “For us, it came down to experience,” said Gary Conklin, a councilman for 12 years who was elected a town supervisor; he declined to talk about the gas project. “That’s what we ran our campaign on.”

Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Partners, formerly Inergy, filed for state and federal permits in 2010 to store liquid propane gas and methane in defunct salt caverns near Seneca Lake in Reading, about 200 miles northwest of New York City. The facility will generate 11 permanent, full-time jobs and will pay about $615,000 a year to Schuyler County, its school district and Reading in lieu of taxes, according to the latest company estimates.