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Mahopac Crowd Decries Battery-Storage Facility at Public Hearing

By Rob Sample

Residents of Carmel and Somers turned out in force at the June 19 Carmel Town Board meeting to express opposition to a battery-energy storage facility proposed for a Mahopac site. It was the first public hearing on the matter.

After much public outcry, the board proposed a six-month moratorium on action on the proposed lithium-battery farm, which bears the formal name Union Energy Center. The complex would include a 116-megawatt battery energy storage system, two substations and two enclosure pads.

Its developer is East Point Energy, Inc., of Charlottesville, Va. – a green-energy firm owned by the Norwegian company Equinor.

The proposed lithium-battery farm would be the biggest, by far, in New York State, and would occupy a 93.5-acre parcel off Miller and Union Valley roads in Mahopac.

In calling for the six-month moratorium, the board said it needs more time to study the proposal and determine if the town code could adequately address residents’ safety concerns. Many of those who showed up to speak urged the board to adopt a moratorium of at least one year, if not permanently.

Nobody spoke in favor of the project.

“I have learned more about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries than I have ever wanted to know,” said Mahopac resident Lauren Rosolen. “Those dangers … include words like ‘fire,’ ‘explosion,’ ‘thermal runaway,’ ‘environmental pollution and contamination,’ ‘property damage’ and ‘lost property values.’ Show this community you value our safety, that you have heard our concerns, and that you will do everything in your power to make sure (safety) is your number-one priority.”

Colleen Coxen said every applicant for a project has a right to due process, but not at the expense of community safety and well-being. “Granting a moratorium will be fulfilling what a town board is elected to do – to serving the greater good for all rather than the benefit of a few,” she said. “These battery plants are dangerous and pose a threat to our community.”

Attorney Andrew Campanelli of Merrick, Long Island, appeared on behalf of 50 Carmel property owners. He noted that state government recommends, at a minimum, towns amend their comprehensive plans prior to considering battery farms. The state’s recommendations also include adopting a local law governing battery farms and instituting site plan requirements, he said.

“It is critical for you to adopt the moratorium so that you have time to implement these three minimum basic safety requirements,” said Campanelli, who also urged the board to prohibit facilities of this size. “I can’t understand who in their right mind would approve a 116-megawatt facility in this town. It’s absurd.”

Mahopac resident Agnes Nowak was a child in Poland in 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in the nearby Soviet Union.

“I felt the firsthand effects,” she said. “I lost two family members to brain cancer caused by this nuclear explosion and have some family members who even today are experiencing major health issues. Unfortunately, (an explosion at) the lithium-farm facility would put Chernobyl to shame. Please do not allow outsiders to dictate what’s good and safe for our community based solely on profit.”

Because the project would be built within its boundaries, the Town of Carmel is handling the permitting process. Nonetheless, the site straddles both town and county lines. A large contingent of people who spoke against the project were from Cornelius Lane in Baldwin Place (Somers), immediately adjacent to the project site.

Paul Harold, a retired New York City police officer who lives on Cornelius Lane, was a first responder at the plane crash in the Rockaways that occurred in 2001, in which all 260 people on board died. He cautioned listeners of what might result from exposure to similar toxins.

“Of the 19 men that were in my unit, five have passed away and seven more of us have cancer from toxic fumes and gases,” said Harold, noting he developed three types of cancer himself. “I can only hope the members of this board and members of the planning board come to the realization of the dangers these facilities create within our communities and put an end to this potential catastrophic situation.”

Somers resident Kevin O’Keefe said the battery plant would put a huge strain local first responder organizations.

“If it takes 2,000 gallons of water to put out a Tesla car fire, how much water will it take to maintain 116-megawatt battery storage fire?” he asked. “The largest Mahopac fire apparatus holds 5,000 gallons of water – not enough to keep 96 tractor-trailer-sized batteries cool. Where is all this water coming from?”

To hammer that point home, Maria DeSimone of Mahopac attended the meeting wearing gear that first responders don to fight fires.

“Are you going to provide this gear to every family member in Mahopac, and not the paper masks that are given out?” she asked. “What I find amazing is that no one ever heard of this, and then all of a sudden (they are) going up all over the world, especially in the U.S., and catching fire.”

Noelle Mauriello of Somers cited the battery-plant fires at Moss Landing and Otay Mesa in Calfornia, “which experienced thermal runaway burning for days and even weeks, releasing toxic hydrogen fluoride and cyanide gas into the atmosphere. The responsible thing to do is study the long-term impact of these fires and failures,” she said. “There is simply not much data out there because these structures are too new.”

Cornelius Lane resident Michelle Stuart pointed to studies by the University of Texas that have demonstrated that such installations have a negative impact on land and home values in nearby areas. Even worse, health risks are largely unknown, she said.

“For the people who live near these battery farms, their health records actually become the findings used to demonstrate what is actually safe in the future,” said Stuart. “People are used as lab rats.”

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