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U.S. Fish and Wildlife revokes STAMP industrial park's pipeline permit

This image overlooks a marsh, with large patches of plants on both sides of the water. In the distance, the sun is peaking over the tops of faraway trees. The sky is a pale orange.
Courtesy of The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region
GCEDC will have to cease construction in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the industrial development agency's permit.

Construction on an industrial park in Genesee County has been compromised after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked a key permit for a wastewater pipeline meant to service the county’s industrial park. The revocation goes into effect in June.

The Western New York Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park was meant to create a high-tech manufacturing park in the region. But those plans started more than a decade ago, and the project has already had to clear several lawsuits and other hurdles along the way.

The wastewater pipeline permit allowed the Genesee County Economic Development Center – or GCEDC – to build the pipeline through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge using horizontal drilling.

In its decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it had revoked the permit because of wider than expected environmental impacts on the wildlife refuge and GCEDC’s use of open trenching as a construction method.

The revocation comes months after construction workers spilled drilling fluid into the wildlife refuge. The largest of those spills dumped about 100 gallons of fluid into the wetlands.

GCEDC is looking to construct a different pipeline, but would eventually have to "construct that original pipeline through the refuge," the group said in a statement.

The Tonawanda Seneca Nation, whose reservation is located next to the STAMP site, applauded the move. The nation has vocally opposed STAMP for years on the grounds that the project threatens wildlife, the nation's land rights and the health of reservation residents. With the help of the environmental law group Earthjustice, the nation filed a federal lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in November and asked the court to revoke GCEDC's permit.

“It's a long time coming," Tonawanda Seneca Nation Chief Roger Hill said. "We've been asking the Fish and Wildlife Service for a few years now to revoke these permits, because there has never been any — in our opinion — collaborative conversation on what we feel is the effects of what would happen to us in his situation.”

GCEDC said in a statement Thursday that it was "working closely" with the towns of Oakfield and Alabama to construct a new pipeline that would "accommodate the current projects at STAMP and a potential future project." But the industrial development agency said that new pipeline "cannot fully replace " its original pipeline. GCEDC indicated that it would reapply for a permit and "continue to pursue" building that original pipeline through the wildlife refuge with "a different construction method."

"We look forward to working with United States Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation as this process moves forward," the statement reads.

Hill hopes the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision will be a precedent across the U.S. in similar cases affecting other indigenous nations.

"I hope it propels a lot of other court cases and situations with Indian tribes and nations across the country to have a positive reflection or influence on their situations," he said. "This is happening across Indian country, you know, north to south, east and west. It's not just [specific] to the Tonawanda Seneca, because it's happening across the country, where the Indian tribes and nations are getting short end of the stick in federal courts and state courts."

Days after the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision, British manufacturer Edwards Vacuum — one of two companies that have committed to building at STAMP so far — announced Friday that it had started construction on a 240,000 square-foot facility at the STAMP site. Edwards makes parts that are "vital" to manufacturing semiconductors. State officials say Edwards' facility would "create up to 600 jobs."

"The start of construction for this critical semiconductor industry project demonstrates the impact that STAMP provides in our shared state and federal vision to grow semiconductor and related advanced manufacturing sectors,” GCEDC President and CEO Steve Hyde said in a statement.

It is unclear how the revocation of the permit will affect Edwards Vacuum's plans.

The wastewater pipeline has faced several legal challenges over the past year. A State Supreme Court Justice ruled in favor of GCEDC in February after Orleans County's government sought to keep the industrial development from building the pipeline in Orleans County. The pipeline would terminate in Orleans County and pump an average of 6 million gallons of wastewater per day into Oak Orchard Creek.