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Cornell University - Summary Hearing Report, September 3, 1997

Summary Hearing Report, September 3, 1997

50 Wolf Road
Albany, New York 12233-1550

In the Matter

- of the -

Application of CORNELL UNIVERSITY for permits pursuant to Environmental Conservation Law of
the State of New York (ECL) Articles 15 and 17, and 401 of the Clean Water Act to withdraw non-contact cooling water from Cayuga Lake, Ithaca (C), Tompkins County Application No. 7-5099-9/1 SUMMARY HEARING REPORT

- by -

Daniel P. O'Connell
Administrative Law Judge


Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, has applied to the Department of Environmental Conservation (the Department) for permits pursuant to Environmental Conservation Law of the State of New York (ECL) Articles 15 (Protection of Water) and 17 (Water Pollution Control), and 401 of the Clean Water Act to construct and operate a cooling system for the University. The cooling system would draw about 46 million gallons per day (MGD) of water from Cayuga Lake through a 63-inch uptake pipeline located about 260 feet below the surface of the lake. At an upland heat exchange facility about 2.4 miles from the University's central cooling system, the lake water would circulate through exchangers where it would absorb heat from water circulating in a 42-inch closed-loop pipeline. The 42-inch closed-loop pipeline would circulate water between the heat exchange facility and the campus' central cooling system. Lake water would then be returned to Cayuga Lake through a 48-inch diameter outfall pipe. The Project is designed so that water from Cayuga Lake would not mix with the water circulating in the 42-inch pipeline.

The Department Staff has made a tentative determination to issue a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit [ECL Article 17] for the discharge of a maximum of 46 MGD of non-contact cooling water to Cayuga Lake.

As lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (6 NYCRR Part 617), the Department Staff issued a positive declaration on May 7, 1996. The Applicant prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The Staff accepted the DEIS and the application as complete on July 9, 1997.

Notices of Completion of DEIS, and of a SEQRA and Legislative Hearing were published in the Department'sEnvironmental Notice Bulletin and in theIthaca Journal on July 9, 1997. On August 6, 1997 at 7:00 P.M., I convened a legislative hearing on the application and the DEIS at the Boynton Middle School, 1601 North Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY. Approximately forty people attended. Nine people delivered oral statements, and one person submitted written comments.

The legislative hearing was held pursuant to 6 NYCRR 621.7(c) based on a determination by the Department's Region 7 Staff that the application had generated a significant degree of public interest. The hearing was held to gather comments for review by the Staff who will determine whether such comments met the criteria in 621.7(b) and (d) to refer the matter to the Office of Hearings and Mediation Services to schedule an Issues Conference pursuant to 6 NYCRR Part 624, or whether a permitting decision can be made based on the DEIS, the application materials, and the legislative hearing record. As provided for in the Notice, and as stated at the August 6 legislative hearing, the Staff will receive written comments until September 8, 1997.

Summary of Comments

Neither the Department Staff nor the Applicant's representatives made any statements at the legislative hearing.

The first speaker was Walter Lynn, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Director for the Center for the Environment, Cornell University. Professor Lynn is a member of the Advisory Committee established by the Center for the Environment, at the request of the University's administration, to review the scientific issues discussed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The Advisory Committee prepared a report, which appears in Volume 1 of the DEIS.

The Advisory Committee's report addressed the following: (1) the thermal configuration of the lake, (2) phosphorous movement from lake bottom sediment to surface water, (3) entrainment of mysid shrimp and small fish, (4) dispersion of any toxic substances buried in lake sediments during construction, and (5) zebra mussel control.

The findings of the Advisory Committee include the following. The diffuser at the return outflow would make the thermal effects nearly undetectable. The Project would contribute very little to algae production because the diffuser would rapidly disburse any lake bottom sediments containing phosphorous. State-of-the-art equipment would minimize the dispersion of sediments at the dredging site, and all dredged materials would be disposed at upland sites. Zebra mussels would be controlled mechanically by "pigging" the intake pipe thereby eliminating the use of any chemicals. Professor Lynn stated that the Advisory Committee concluded that any potential adverse environmental impacts from the Project would be minimal compared to the environmental benefits gained from reducing the use of fossil fuels and refrigerants, which are currently used to cool the University.

Pauline Layton is a resident of Ithaca. According to Ms. Layton, many Cornell faculty members objected to the nuclear power plant proposed in the early 1970s, in part, because that proposal included using Cayuga Lake as a source of non-contact cooling water. Ms. Layton questioned why the Cornell faculty would now support a similar use of the lake.

According to Donald Stephenson, the Project would increase the growth of bacteria by raising the water temperature and by redistributing nutrients, such as phosphorous, from lake bottom sediments to surface waters. Mr. Stephenson stated that the increased levels of bacteria would contaminate the drinking water supply taken at Bolton Point. Mr. Stephenson characterized the Project as an experiment which could cause unforeseen environmental damage. Mr. Stephenson argued that the DEIS lacks any accurate data, and called for a guarantee from Cornell University that the University would correct any environmental damage that may result from the Project.

Edmond Ritchie, who is President of the Ithaca-Cortland Building Trades Council, supports the Project. Mr. Ritchie stated that the Project would substantially reduce the amount of refrigerants currently used to cool the University. According to Mr. Ritchie, the Project would also benefit the local economy. The economic benefits include construction jobs, as well as the business opportunities associated with providing materials and services for the construction activities.

William Wittlin opposes the Project. He is a medical doctor and a student at Cornell University, Department of Environmental Studies. According to Dr. Wittlin, the thermal discharge will adversely impact Cayuga Lake. Dr. Wittlin stated that many of the assumptions in the DEIS are faulty. Dr. Wittlin also objected to the consultants hired by the University preparing the DEIS, and to the University's faculty reviewing the DEIS. According to him, this practice is a conflict of interest. Dr. Wittlin called for the development of a new DEIS by an independent agent, and proposed that a citizens' advisory committee review the Project.

Donald Weir is recently retired from the Nation Parks Service, and owns a home on Cayuga Lake about mile from the proposed pump station. Mr. Weir explained that while working for the Parks Service he observed that some projects at national parks and natural areas caused unforeseen adverse impacts. Based on his experiences, Mr. Weir is concerned that something unforeseen may result from this Project.

As a result of two sewage outfalls at the south end of the lake, Mr. Weir stated that Stewart Park is now closed to swimming. Mr. Weir is concerned that the discharge will adversely effect water quality by increasing the water temperature and reintroducing nutrients to the water column from lake bottom sediments. Since Mr. Weir's home is on the lakeshore, he stated that if the water quality of the lake continues to deteriorate, then the value of his home will decrease. Mr. Weir requested that an independent testing agency be retained to monitor the effects of the Project on Cayuga Lake.

Betsy Darlington is concerned that the Project will encourage similar projects along the lake's shore. At some point, Ms. Darlington explained that the cumulative effect of similar water cooling projects around Cayuga Lake could adversely impact the water quality.

David Morales opposes the Project. He is concerned that the volume of water that may be used by the University will literally turn the lake upside down and cause adverse impacts. Mr. Morales is also concerned about the temperature of the discharge and the potential effect it may have on trout. According to Mr. Morales, many local residents oppose the Project. Because Cayuga Lake is such a significant and valuable natural resource, Mr. Morales does not want Cornell University to benefit from the Project at the expense of the other residents in the Finger Lake Region.

S.W. Worth complained that the DEIS is inaccessible. According to Mr. Worth, the locations that house the DEIS are currently opened from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., Monday through Friday, which prevents anyone who works during the day from reviewing the DEIS. Mr. Worth wants better access to the DEIS before the close of the comment period.

Based on the pending deregulation of electric power, Mr. Worth questioned the validity of any price models used in the DEIS to evaluate the expected savings from reduced electricity usage. According to Mr. Worth, the DEIS does not adequately address alternatives such as natural gas fired chillers.

Mr. Worth lives on the north end of Lake Street which is near the site of the outfall. Consequently, Mr. Worth is concerned about the impact that the construction activities associated with the Project may have on his home, and the potential safety risks to his young family. Mr. Worth called for additional mitigation for the property owners who may be adversely impacted by the Project.

In written comments filed at the legislative hearing, J.A. Bernstein stated that the Applicant should collect a substantial amount of baseline data concerning algae and aquatic plants at the area of the proposed outfall now. Then conditions can be compared periodically to the baseline data to determine whether the proposed thermal discharge is causing any adverse impacts, if the Project is approved.

According to Mr. Bernstein, an important benefit of the Project would be the cooling water provided to the local high school for air conditioning purposes during the May and June exam period. Finally, Mr. Bernstein argued that additional attention should be paid to the right shoulder of 34B Northbound near the turn off for the East Shore Marina. Mr. Bernstein stated that this section of the roadway, which would be adjacent to the pump station, is not safe.

This matter was referred to the Office of Hearings and Mediation Services to conduct a legislative hearing and to summarize the public comments for the Department Staff. The Staff will complete its review of the comments and determine pursuant to 6 NYCRR 621.7 whether the comments received during the public comment period require further action by the Office of Hearings and Mediation Services. This Summary Hearing Report and the written comments received at the public session are hereby transmitted to Region 7 Department Staff.

Dated: Albany, New York
September 3, 1997

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