Orleans opposes STAMP sewer discharge in Oak Orchard

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 July 2023 at 6:39 pm

County acquires 2 easements to block sewer pipeline construction

Photos by Tom Rivers: Michael Dobell, chief executive officer for the Orleans Economic Development Agency, said county officials are opposing the sewer discharge into Oak Orchard Creek, saying it could jeopardize future development in Medina and Shelby, while harming the county’s tourism and recreation with the Oak Orchard. (Right) Jennifer Persico, an attorney with Lippes Mathias LLP, said the Genesee County Economic Development Center illegally created STAMP Sewer Works as “a sham corporation” to do the eminent domain proceedings against two Orleans County property owners. She has been hired by Orleans County.

ALABAMA – Orleans County officials made it clear they oppose efforts to run a 9-mile-long sewer pipeline from the STAMP manufacturing site in Alabama along Route 63 into Shelby, depositing up to 6 million gallons of treated wastewater into the Oak Orchard Creek.

County officials spoke during an eminent domain public hearing today. Orleans County has hired Lippes Mathias LLP in Buffalo to oppose the pipeline and the push for temporary construction easements on two properties in Shelby. One temporary construction easement also is needed in Alabama.

Michael Dobell, chief executive officer of the Orleans Economic Development Agency, said the sewer discharges from STAMP at up to 6 million gallons a day would limit the Orleans EDA’s efforts to attract businesses to the Medina Business Park in Shelby.

The discharges also would have an impact on the Oak Orchard, which is a major fishing draw for the county and also used by kayakers, boaters and others for recreation, Dobell said.

(Left) Mark Masse, senior vice president of operations for the Genesee County Economic Development Center, said the STAMP park offers numerous economic benefits for the region. (Right) Matthew Fitzgerald, attorney with Phillips Lytle and for STAMP Sewer Works, said the pipeline has received state and federal environmental approvals and won’t pose a significant environmental impact. He stressed the eminent domain is for a temporary construction easement and wouldn’t be permanent.

Dobell also announced Orleans County has secured the easements from the two holdout landowners in Shelby for the pipeline. The county acquired the easements with the purpose that no sewer pipeline construction be allowed on the land owned by Brennen and Valerie O’Connor, and Donald and Dana Quackenbush.

“We support our neighbors and advocate for economic development that facilitates growth of new industry in the region,” Dobell said during a public hearing at the Alabama Volunteer Fire Hall. “We are not opposed to the overall STAMP project as it exists in Genesee County. However, as representatives working on behalf of the residents and business owners in Orleans County, our mission is to foster economic development within Orleans County, and it would be inconsistent with that mission to support a project that would compromise local infrastructure, harm the county’s recreational waterways and is detrimental to economic development in Orleans County.”

The Genesee County Economic Development Center has been working for more than a decade to develop the STAMP “Green Manufacturing Mega Site.” The industrial park is 1,250 acres and is targeted for nanotechnology, chip manufacturers and other advanced manufacturing.

The first tenant at STAMP, Plug Power Inc., is under construction for a $290 million hydrogen production facility that is expected to be ready in the summer 2024 and will employ 68 workers.

Another company, Edwards Vacuum, announced plans in November for a $319 million factory that will produce equipment used in the semiconductor industry.

Joe Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney and a Shelby resident, said Genesee County’s pipeline project and eminent domain proceedings against two Shelby property owners violates a spirit of cooperation among the two counties.

Mark Masse, GCEDC senior vice president of operations, said STAMP could be a transformative project for the community, employing up to 9,000 people at full buildout of 6 million square feet of space. STAMP would have a big positive ripple effect throughout the region, including Orleans County, Masse said.

STAMP has secured 27 easements for the pipeline construction but needs three more. That’s why its subsidiary, STAMP Sewer Works, held the eminent domain public hearing today. That hearing was attended by about 75 people and lasted nearly three hours.

Masse and an engineer from Clark Patterson Lee said other options were studied for the sewer discharge – Tonawanda Creek, Whitney Creek and the wildlife refuge – but they would have a bigger impact on the environment and the neighboring Seneca Tonawanda Nation.

The 9-mile long sewer pipe with a 20-inch diameter is the most feasible alternative, Masse said. Without that pipeline the full buildout of STAMP will not be possible, he said.

The easement is needed for about two to three weeks of construction and then another week of property restoration for about a month total. Once the work is done the easement goes away.

Contractors need use of the property for excavators, drilling machines and dump trucks. About 10 to 15 people will be on site during construction.

The pipe will go down 6 to 23 feet. The project also includes pump stations.

Masse noted the project has secured environmental permits from the state and federal agencies.

Scott Logan, a subchief for the Bear Clan of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, said the STAMP project has been moving forward despite opposition from the Tonawanda Nation that borders the property. The STAMP site is a threat to Tonawanda culture and so much wildlife, he said. Other local residents shared similar concerns.

The Genesee County EDC was faulted for going outside its legal authority in using the STAMP Sewer Works entity to pursue the easements, said Dobell of the Orleans EDA and Jennifer Persico, an attorney with Lippes Mathias LLP, a firm retained by Orleans County.

Persico said STAMP Sewer Works is “a sham corporation” to do the eminent domain proceedings against two Orleans County property owners.

The General Municipal Law doesn’t allow an industrial development agency to use funds or provide financial assistance for projects outside its county borders, unless it has the other county’s support, Persico said. Orleans County never gave its consent for the eminent domain.

The GCEDC is clearly driving and funding the STAMP Sewer Works and pushing for the easements to discharge wastewater into Orleans, she said.

“This hearing is really an attempt by GCEDC to finance a project outside its boundaries which is prohibited outside the General Municipal Law,” she said. “At its core it seems the STAMP Sewer Works is an invalid corporation with no authority to undertake eminent domain.”

Matthew Fitzgerald, an attorney for STAMP Sewer Works, said the sewer pipeline has undergone “an extensive environmental review” from the Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the refuge and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The GCEDC has avoided all adverse impacts to the maximum extent practical,” said Fitzgerald, an attorney with Phillips Lytle.

(Left) Geri Hens of Niagara County, a beekeeper with colonies in 15 counties, said too much farmland and environmentally sensitive areas are being lost to big business. (Right) Dr. Kirk A. Scirto, a family medicine specialist at Tonawanda Family Care Center, said the STAMP businesses could affect the nearby Tonawanda and other residents with more cases of nausea, rashes and other illnesses and conditions. He also said the sewer only serves big businesses and doesn’t allow residents to tap in.

Joe Cardone, the Orleans County district attorney and a Shelby resident, said the push by Genesee to discharge sewer water into the Oak Orchard goes against a spirit of cooperation that has long existed between the two counties.

“Shame on Genesee County for how this is happening,” Cardone said. “This may be a great project, but Orleans County really bears the brunt of this project, having to take on all the wastewater.”

Cardone said Orleans should have been brought to table in early discussions about how to handle the sewer needs for STAMP.

“We know very little about the quality of the wastewater (from STAMP),” Cardone said. “We do know it is to our detriment for the benefit of Genesee County.”

(Left) Jill Heaps, an attorney at Earthjustice’s Northeast office, said the pipeline construction and its outflow into Oak Orchard Creek raised environmental concerns. (Right) Margaux Valenti, Legal Director for Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, said the full environmental impacts were considered with the 9-mile sewer pipeline.