McCoy: Move Ezra Prentice residents away from oil trains

Times Union | July 23, 2014 | Column by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist

ALBANY — County Executive Dan McCoy called Wednesday on the Albany Housing Authority to move hundreds of residents out of a public housing complex adjacent to a rail yard full of oil-bearing trains.

Ezra Prentice Homes resident Deneen Carter-El, right, joins Bebe White, vice president of the tenants association, center, as they talk about the oil trains parked behind their apartments on Wednesday, July 23, 2014, at Ezra Prentice Homes in Albany, N.Y. (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

"At the end of the day, let's face it, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to say, 'Should these people be living here?'" McCoy said standing just feet from the Ezra Prentice Homes on South Pearl Street and a chain-link fence separating them from rows and rows of parked oil tank cars.

"Just because we put it here doesn't make it right," McCoy said, citing potential health risks from fumes rising from the rail cars and the threat of a devastating explosion. "We can make it right by moving it."

McCoy made the remarks at a press conference to announce local legislation that would impose stiff criminal and civil penalties — including fines up to $250,000 and up to a year in jail — for operators that fail to notify county officials of an oil spill within 30 minutes.

The legislation, which will be considered by the County Legislature, is an outgrowth of the county's anger that Global Partners, the operator of an oil transfer facility at the Port of Albany, did not notify county emergency management officials or call 911 after a small oil spill last month.

The company and its rail partners did alert state environmental and transportation officials, as well as the Federal Railroad Administration, as required by law, officials have said.

"A year in jail, I gotta tell you, should send a message," said McCoy, an Albany Democrat and former firefighter who has also imposed a moratorium on the growth of Global's operations at the port pending a health and safety review.

The Times Union reported Monday morning that Global has pegged the cause of last month's oil spill on a faulty emergency relief valve on the railcar that appears to have failed at lower pressure than designed.

The company has also told county officials that it believes the spill amounted to just half of the 100 gallons initially reported to state and federal officials.

A representative of the Albany Housing Authority could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, but Bebe White, the vice president of the tenant association at the complex seconded McCoy's call to empty it for safety reasons.

"They need to get us out of here before it gets too late," White said. McCoy said the housing authority should request federal money to relocate the residents someplace safer.

The first phase of the 176-unit Ezra Prentice Homes dates to 1966, and in 2010 the entire complex underwent a $26 million renovation. McCoy said he had broached the topic with housing authority officials but added: "Let's just say it really didn't go anywhere."

The county, meanwhile, said it's girding for a legal fight with the oil industry over the failure-to-report legislation.

Peter Iwanowicz, chairman of McCoy's advisory committee on oil safety and executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said that battle could mirror the one between towns that sought to ban hydrofracking within their borders and the gas industry -— a battle the towns ultimately won in the state's highest court.

"We're going to set the stage — not just for New York state but for the rest of the nation," McCoy said.

County Attorney Thomas Marcelle was similarly assured.

"I'm confident it will withstand any legal challenge," he said.

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McCoy: Move Ezra Prentice residents away from oil trains
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.