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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Letter to Gov. Cuomo — LPG Facilities on Seneca Lake

I grew up in the Finger Lakes Region in Geneva, which is at the north end of Seneca Lake. A company called Crestwood (formerly Inergy) has proposed an expansion of liquefied petroleum gas storage in the old salt mines on the Western shore of the lake near Watkins Glen (on the south end of the lake).

Not only are these facilities incredibly dangerous, with potential for leaks and explosions, but Crestwood has plans to transform my home into the "gas storage and transportation hub [of] the Northeast," threatening the health of our tourism and wine industries, which are deeply intertwined. The last time I checked, open brine pits, a flame stack, noise pollution, and increased truck and train traffic are not appealing to the tourists that our region relies upon so much.

Furthermore, this project would only provide 8–10 permanent jobs (not for locals), whereas Hazlitt 1852 vineyards alone employs about 60 people (keep in mind this is one of our many wineries on Seneca Lake).

Over my spring break, I attended a public forum organized by Gas Free Seneca about this issue in Watkins Glen called "Seneca in the Balance" on March 11th. At this forum, local businesspeople, scientists, legal experts, health experts, local officials, and activists all spoke, and every one of them, despite their varying backgrounds and ideologies, agreed that this project would be terrible for Seneca Lake and the 100,000+ who rely upon it for drinking water.

At the forum, pre-written letters to send to Governor Cuomo were distributed for attendees to sign and return to be sent in. I filled out one of these letters, but I wanted to write a more personal one that told my story as a lifetime resident of the Finger Lakes Region. I have sent in that second letter, and I wanted to share it with you hear.

After the letter I will include information on how you can help this cause and learn more about it.



Governor Andrew Cuomo:

My name is Faith Meckley, and I am contacting you in regards to Inergy/Crestwood Midstream’s proposal for permits to store liquefied propane and butane and expand natural gas storage in the salt caverns on the western shore of Seneca Lake.

Today I attended an event in Watkins Glen called Seneca in the Balance, which was organized by Gas Free Seneca. At this event, legal experts, local business owners, scientists, local officials, and activists all gave eloquent speeches about the issue, and despite their wide range of viewpoints and ideologies, all of them had the same message: moving forward with this proposal is a terrible idea for our region.

At the event we were given pre-written letters to sign and send to you, Governor Cuomo. I did sign one of these letters, and I brought several home to give to family and friends so they could also make their voices heard. While I agree that sending in these uniform letters en masse is a great way to show how many people are against this, I also think it is important to take the time to personalize these messages for each of our unique stories and perspectives. That is why I decided to take the time to write a second letter to you, this one composed 100% by me and entirely unique from any other letter you have or ever will receive.

Last night, March 10th, 31 senators pulled an all-nighter and kept the session open to bring attention to the global climate change crisis. This event was called Up for Climate. I stayed up with them in solidarity, and while I watched the live-stream of the event I heard many amazing things. During a late night conversation between Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey, the focus of the discussion shifted away from numbers and graphical charts to specific stories. The senators told the stories of how their states had each been affected by climate change, and they also shared the stories of individual constituents who had been affected.

For me, this was one of the most moving parts of the whole night. Amidst all the numbers and statistics and fighting over science, it’s easy to forget that climate change is a very human issue with its own set of casualties and heartbreaks. You can never reduce human beings to numbers, and while facts are great for advancing a cause, true change is born from tugging at the heartstrings.

Governor Cuomo, I have included in this envelope a sheet of information that will tell you all the facts you need to know about why the proposed facilities and expansions are a bad idea for Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes Region. But this letter will be devoted to me telling you my story as someone who has lived her whole life in the Finger Lakes Region. This letter is about humanizing this issue, about putting a face and a name to this potential disaster.  

Like I said at the opening of the letter, my name is Faith. I am 19 years old and I am currently attending my first year of college at Ithaca College. I am majoring in journalism and double minoring in international politics and creative writing. I am in my college’s honors program and I graduated high school in the top ten of my class. I chose to remain in the Finger Lakes during my higher education years, and each morning I am privileged to wake up on a campus that has a beautiful overlook of Cayuga Lake.

I was born to Jennifer and Lawrence Meckley at Geneva General Hospital on the north end of Seneca Lake on February 16th, 1995, when you were Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development. My parents were married on a boat on Seneca Lake when I was a year and a half old; I was the flower girl for the wedding. I grew up in a small house outside of the City of Geneva surrounded by the beauty of rural New York. My parents did not hesitate to expose me to the outdoors, and I spent most of my childhood outside exploring the fields and woodlands.

When I was a child we had a boat, and during the summer my parents and I often went out for cruises on Seneca Lake with my first dog, Sheba, a black Labrador retriever. Sheba liked to jump off the boat to go after ducks, but they always flew away as soon as she hit the water with a big splash. I remember fondly all the times we had to haul our heavy, soaking wet dog back onto the boat, laughing too hard to scold her seriously.

My tiny self did not know then that the lake was the deepest Finger Lake and provided water to over 100,000 people, including me. I did not understand then that my lake was part of a larger region that drew travelers from all over the world. Even though I loved animals, back then I did not know the meaning of biodiversity or appreciate how Seneca Lake was a hub for people and wildlife alike. But there was one thing I knew for sure: my lake was beautiful and I loved spending time with my parents either on the boat or in Seneca Lake’s surrounding parks. All of my young memories of spending time at the lake are tinted in gold from summer sunlight and sheer happiness.

If you had come to me when I was a kid and told me about this proposal, I think even in my young naivety I still would have said no. I may not have understood local economy and tourism and biodiversity, but I did understand that Seneca Lake is a beautiful part of nature to be cherished and protected. Now that I am 19 years old and I understand the concept of corporate profit, I can also say that no amount of corporate profit can justify putting an entire lake with so many people and animals who rely upon it at risk.

My heavy exposure to the beauty of nature, particularly the beauty of the Finger Lakes Region, set me up to become an environmental advocate and activist in my adolescence and, presently, my early adulthood. When all of your happiest memories revolve around the outdoors, it’s hard not to care about protecting nature and the environment. I am adamantly against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and lifting the moratorium against hydraulic fracturing in New York. I have been involved in these debates for a few years now, and I have progressed from blogging to attending rallies to participating in civil disobedience. In fact, I was just arrested for the first time on March 2nd in Washington, D.C. during a huge peaceful youth protest against the KXL Pipeline.

But, Governor Cuomo, I was not prepared for these issues to come so close to home for me. I follow the fracking and KXL debates closely, and I know all about the horror stories from people whose lives have been turned upside down from spills, pollution, and water contamination. While I could empathize with these people and advocate for them and the cause they represent, I had never been in their position, and therefore I could never know the pain they’ve suffered and still are suffering.

So, when I found out that a corporation was trying to jeopardize Seneca Lake, my lake, my home, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My family and I could be the next poster children of the environmental crisis. I was next. The day I learned about this potential catastrophe was the day my entire world changed. I was no longer fighting for the broader ideas of the planet and the climate; I was suddenly fighting for the safety of my family and for the very place where I grew up and became who I am today.

Governor Cuomo, please understand that my view is not one of an alarmist or a hysterical activist. It is one of a concerned citizen who has done her homework. Again, I will not go into too much detail about this within my personal letter, but the facts about this proposal are clear. If we allow this proposal to become reality, we would be risking toxic leaks and deadly explosions that could devastate the lake and the people who live nearby. We would be allowing increased truck and train traffic as well as eyesores like a flare stack and brine pits, not to mention noise pollution from gas compressors. None of those things are appealing to tourists, who we rely upon heavily for the health of our local economy. Governor Cuomo, I was there in Albany when you gave your State of the State Address this year. You said in your speech that you wanted to grow New York’s tourism industry even more. If you truly want our tourism industry to expand, you cannot allow this project to go forward.

You have the authority to say yes or no to this corporation’s plan for my home region. I do not have that authority. If this project is approved, the only way I can try to save my lake is to physically put myself between the construction crews and the construction sites, which would make a statement, but would be unlikely to stop construction for long. I would have to risk arrest and my safety. With all due respect, Governor Cuomo, you have it a lot easier than me. I humbly ask you to make the right decision and spare me and all the other residents of the Seneca lake region of the hardships we would have to endure in the event of this proposal being approved. The question isn’t whether or not we’re willing to take such action. It’s whether or not we will have to.

Governor Cuomo, is there anything or anyone on this planet that you are willing to get arrested for? I ask you to take a few minutes to think about that, to ask yourself why, and in that reflection, understand where I’m coming from.     

At the end of the Seneca in the Balance event, Sandra Steingraber, American biologist and cancer survivor, made a surprise appearance and spoke to us. She made a very poignant and philosophical point during her speech that I know will always stay with me.

Sandra explained that the human body is made up of 65% water. As I mentioned before, over 100,000 people rely on Seneca Lake for their water. So, there are over 100,000 people out there who are just about two-thirds Seneca Lake. Sandra said one reason why she is fighting so hard for this cause is because her son, Elijah, was raised here, and that he is Seneca Lake.

Governor Cuomo, I am a part of Seneca Lake, and Seneca Lake is a part of me. When you make this decision, do not just consider the facts and the numbers. As you make this decision, please remember the people that this will affect; people like me.

Please remember that we are Seneca Lake.

I would appreciate a response to this letter.  

Yours truly,

Faith Meckley

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To learn more about the history and details of this issue, I encourage you to visit Gas Free Seneca's website here

To see a recording of the "Seneca in the Balance" forum, go here

If you want to help the cause, you can sign a petition asking to deny Crestwood's permit here

You can also send in a pre-written letter to Governor Cuomo, which you can find here and print out. If you want, you can write your own letter like I have. Send your letters to:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224 


If you want to learn how you can become more involved in Gas Free Seneca's efforts to stop this proposal, co-founder Yvonne Taylor is your woman. You can reach her at gasfreeseneca@gmail.com or gasfreesenecagirl@gmail.com

You should also email Yvonne if you want to get anti-LPG facility lawn signs and bumper stickers. 

Thank you for taking the time to read about this issue that is so close to my heart.  

2 comments:

  1. Beautiful and heartfelt letter, Faith. I'd urge others to forward it to Governor Cuomo along with their own letters.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Maura! It was a little hard for me to write, a few times I had to stop and give myself a chance to settle my emotions. I never thought I'd be writing a letter to my representatives to ask them to save my home.

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