Apr 25


Feds revoke major permit for STAMP industrial park

Ruling is the latest setback for the massive industrial park being developed in rural Genesee County. STAMP also faces two lawsuits over the pipeline.

Three spills of drilling fluid into protected wetlands contributed to revocation of permit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has dealt a major blow to the developers of a massive industrial park in rural Genesee County, notifying them this week that the agency would revoke a key permit needed to construct the park’s wastewater pipeline.

That pipeline in recent months has emerged as one of the most controversial components of the 1,250-acre Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park — STAMP — one of the largest industrial parks under construction in New York. It’s so far generated two lawsuits and its construction has resulted in the spilling of hundreds of gallons of drilling fluid in federally-protected wetlands. 

Both the Tonawanda Seneca Nation and neighboring Orleans County have opposed the pipeline’s construction.

The pipeline, however, is essential to STAMP, which is located miles away from existing water supply and wastewater treatment plants.

To date, two companies — Plug Power and Edwards Vacuum — have announced plans to locate at STAMP, but neither have begun operations. Both companies have secured large subsidies from state and local governments.

Plug Power told the Town of Alabama recently it was pausing construction of its two hydrogen-producing electrolyzers and Edwards Vacuum has yet to break ground. Infrastructure, such as the wastewater pipeline, is needed for STAMP to become fully operational.

New York so far has invested $100 million into infrastructure for STAMP, including the pipeline. The industrial park counts Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sen. Chuck Schumer as key supporters.

The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit for the work in 2022, but ordered work stopped last fall after construction resulted in hundreds of gallons of drilling fluids spilling in protected wetlands in August and September.

In a letter Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Genesee County Economic Development Center it was pulling a right-of-way permit for the pipeline, which travels through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. The decision, according to the letter, was tied to the spills. 

In wetlands, the Service has said, the slurry can “increase turbidity, change water chemistry, and expose plants and animals to potentially harmful chemicals.” As a result, the Economic Development Center proposed changing construction methods, saying it would install the pipeline via trench instead of horizontal drilling.

But Scott Kahan, a regional chief for the National Wildlife Refuge System, said in his letter Wednesday that such a change violated the permit the Service had issued for the pipeline. A shift to “open trenching,” he wrote, “is specifically prohibited.”

Kahan noted further that installing the pipeline “via horizontal directional drilling cannot be completed as originally permitted and that the environmental impacts extend beyond the permitted Right-Of-Way.”

The permit is revoked as of June 24, as federal rules require 60 days notice before taking effect. Due to the Nation’s lawsuit over the pipeline, a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson declined to comment further and referred Investigative Post to the Department of Justice. A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment.

The federal permit was needed for STAMP’s wastewater pipeline due to the park’s remote location, one of the factors cited when it failed a state “smart growth” study. As currently planned, the pipeline will travel more than 9 miles from the STAMP site, through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, over the Orleans County line, ultimately discharging up to six million gallons per day in Oak Orchard Creek, which drains into Lake Ontario. 

The pipeline under construction along Route 63 in Genesee County. Photo by Garrett Looker.

Investigative Post previously reported that those plans could result in the pipeline violating the Clean Water Act, due to existing phosphorus pollution in Oak Orchard Creek.

The Economic Development Center, in response, said Thursday it would work with neighboring municipalities on a temporary fix for the industrial park’s wastewater needs while it applies for a new pipeline permit with the Fish and Wildlife Service. That process could take years, however.

Officials with the Economic Development Center, including CEO Steve Hyde and Senior VP of Operations Mark Masse, did not return phone calls Thursday from Investigative Post seeking comment.

In a statement, the Center said it was “working closely with the towns of Oakfield and Alabama, along with the village of Oakfield and regulatory agencies, to construct a [pipeline] to accommodate the current projects at STAMP and a potential future project.”

That plan, the statement said, “alleviates the timing pressures for the build-out of the force main to Oak Orchard Creek.”

“As the Oakfield line cannot fully replace Orleans County line we will continue to pursue the force main to Oak Orchard Creek in the town of Shelby through a different construction method and we look forward to working with United States Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation as this process moves forward,” the Economic Development Center said in the statement.

It noted that installing the pipeline via trench “will avoid the types of incidents that resulted from the former method.”

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The Tonawanda Seneca Nation, meanwhile, counted the revocation of the permit as a victory in its opposition to STAMP. The Nation borders the industrial park and members have said they worry that the companies and people that could locate there will harm a forest they rely on for food and medicine.

Those fears were justified, Nation members said, when pipeline construction resulted in spills in the wetlands. Grandell Logan, a Nation spokesperson, said he and others worried that the drilling slurry could contaminate the groundwater which could then affect their well water.

“It’s a terrifying thought to think that there’s contaminants in the earth that may then go into the groundwater,” he told Investigative Post on Thursday. “Most of Tonawanda’s people here on the reservation use well water, including myself.”

But, he added: “I feel like it’s a step in the right direction, albeit a bit late in the process.”

The Service’s pulling of the permit means the Nation has another opportunity to consult with the federal government on how STAMP impacts the environment — both the wildlife refuge and their territory nearby. The Service failed to consult with the Nation on the current permit, which the Nation protested. The Service later apologized and pledged to suspend the permit while consultation occurred, but later reversed that decision. 

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Once the Economic Development Center applies for a new permit with the Service — which it said Thursday it plans to do — the Service will be required by law to consult with the Nation.

“The Nation’s core interest here is preventing damage to the refuge and to Seneca homelands and to the interests of Nation citizens who use and enjoy the refuge and to future generations of nation citizens who might do the same,” said Alex Page, an attorney for the Nation.

In the meantime, the Service revoking the permit will affect the lawsuit the Nation brought against the agency last year. In that suit, the Nation asked a federal judge to toss the permit on grounds that construction had caused spills into wetlands, as well as its failure to consult.

On Thursday, lawyers for both the Nation and the Department of the Interior filed a joint motion in federal court to put a pause on the lawsuit until after the permit is officially revoked. The parties, Page said, could then agree to dismiss the case.

“Fish and Wildlife made the right call here,” Page said. “It is highly regrettable that it took up massive environmental contamination for them to come around.”

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