Stop NYRI, Local Coalition, Gets Major Victory

On Friday, April 6, members of the Stop NYRI campaign received good news: New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) had withdrawn its controversial power grid proposal. According to members of the Stop NYRI coalition, NYRI’s power line project would have run power lines through residents’ homes and communities, effectively destroying property values and businesses.

In 2005, President Bush’s energy policy contained legislation that enabled the establishment of National Interest Electrical Transmission Corridors (NIETCs), which allowed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to override state decisions regarding transmission lines. Last February, the court, representing New York State, overturned this decision. Many believe NYRI had been counting on the FERC to override New York State’s decision. On March 31, the FERC denied NYRI’s request to review the new rules of the New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO). NYRI decided this was a financial risk it could not take and promptly withdrew their application.

Much of this change is attributed to the grassroots effort of Stop NYRI and the community.

NYRI’s business is to build a transmission line bringing electrical energy from places where electricity is abundant to areas of high demand. It works to promote responsible energy production, transmission and use. Since 2006, NYRI has been working to implement an energy transmission route extending from Marcy County to Orange County, allowing more electrical energy to travel to metropolitan areas. When NYRI first came to the local community and held a public meeting to tell the residents of their plan, a large turnout reflected the community’s concerns.

Chris Rossi was one community member highly involved in the Stop NYRI campaign, and she became the movement’s co-chair. According to Rossi, NYRI most likely thought the development of the grid would be a cakewalk for their company because they saw the Madison and Chenango Valley as a disempowered area.

“It’s easy to think that we’re not active, educated or even awake,” Rossi said. “But we really surprised ourselves. We found we do have a voice and things worth saving up here. We saw how together we could make a real change.”

Stop NYRI formed very soon after the initial NYRI presentation. Rossi’s co-chair, Eve Ann Shwartz, thought she was alone at first. NYRI’s power grid would have cut through her cattle farm and destroyed 16 acres of her property. Shwartz has been a lifelong resident south of Poolville, and described this as a “direct personal threat to everything we’d worked for, something I wanted my kids to have as a third generation here.” Shwartz quickly realized the huge negative impact NYRI would be having on many other individuals.

“You start talking to people and suddenly you hear your story being reported over and over and over,” Shwartz said.

Stop NYRI is composed of Madison and Chenango Valley community members. They came together about three years ago to fight NYRI’s proposal by using lobbying tactics, raising community awareness, providing science data that contradicted with NYRI’s energy goals and hiring a legal team to make sure NYRI was being held accountable. The group sponsored the first public meeting about NYRI. The gathering was packed and a sense of a common grassroots effort sealed the group’s bond.

With NYRI’s power lines threatening 84 towns in the area, residents got help from Colgate University students and the Upstate Institute to voice their concerns to local and state politicians. Upstate Institute Project Coordinator Rebecca Brenner discussed how Colgate had been interested in “contributing to the dialogue concerning NYRI.” They let science be their guide and funded her environmental analysis of NYRI’s proposal.

Colgate University students, the Upstate Institute and the Green Summit thus became involved in Stop NYRI’s cause late this summer, when the campaign picked up momentum.

Senior Kelly Henderson was highly active in Stop NYRI’s campaign starting in the early fall. She attended the Benefit Concert in Sherburne to raise awareness for Stop NYRI’s cause, set up tables in the O’Connor Campus Center (Coop) with information for students, started posters with signatures and even stayed at school over part of fall break to speak at the Public Service Commission’s first public hearing about NYRI. Henderson reported that the meeting was packed with individuals passionate about fighting against NYRI’s proposal.

“From two years ago to this summer, there was a spattering of lawns with Stop NYRI signs on it,” Henderson said. “Now you see them on every single lawn.”

Senior Janice Jones became involved in the campaign when she took a Peace and Conflict Studies course: Social Justice and Social Change. She helped collect signatures, handed out information and sold t-shirts, pins, decals and signs out on the Hamilton Village Green during weekends and at the Coop. Senior Leighann Kimber also helped Stop NYRI when she worked with Brenner to organize a letter-writing campaign to New York State senators and congressmen.

According to Shwartz, NYRI spent about $27 million on their project to push the power lines through. Stop NYRI spent only $2.5 million.

“You can imagine our surprise when we learned that NYRI withdrew their proposal,” Henderson said.

Shwartz merely laughed.

“I had just ordered 250 new lawn signs. What are we going to do with them now?” Shwartz said.

In spite of Stop NYRI’s recent victory, there is concern that another company will present a new power line proposal if NYRI chooses not to revise their proposal.