April 8, 2003

Town Hall Meeting Evaluates Lake Source Cooling Project

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Residents and other members of the local community discussed the environmental effects of Cornell’s Lake Source Cooling (LSC) facility last evening in a Town Hall presentation given by Paul H. Werthman, president of Benchmark Environmental Engineering and Science.

The University’s LSC facility has operated since July 2000 and is designed to cool buildings on campus. The system recirculates chilled water from Cayuga Lake to the Central Campus cooling system, where it is warmed and released back into the lake.

Benchmark, a company based in Buffalo, N.Y., was hired last October by the Town of Ithaca to evaluate and provide recommendations to the LSC system. Its findings came out in a report last month.

“The purpose of the report is to review the environmental impact statement that Cornell provided for the construction of the plant,” Werthman said.

Werthman outlined main provisions and results that the University-sponsored Upstate Freshwater Institute (UFI) contained in their reports. In addition, he also gave a brief history of the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which indicates the LSC’s restrictions and guidelines.

Even though Werthman said that the University’s measures in the past “were very effective and beyond what is called for,” he added that there are many other seemingly minor concerns that need to be addressed.

He said that one main issue that should be addressed is that there are no cluster pile locations available to measure the thermal impact from LSC discharge. Because of this, Benchmark was unable to assess whether LSC breaks permit or New York State regulations.

The University has also not provided 2002’s data for soluble phosphate. Werthman said that although he is partially confident that the University will meet suitable levels, he is unsure.

“I’m not saying there’s a problem, I’m just not certain if it complies with the law,” he said.

The phosphorus levels in the water, producing algae and affecting the clarity of the water, is one of the main concerns among the community.

Although the UFI measured that there were approximately 3-percent levels in a period from May to October, Werthman said that according to his company’s data, the levels were higher by about 2 percent. Since the facility is only running at 40-percent production, there is concern that phosphorus levels could eventually increase.

Many community members were concerned and highly informed about the LSC project. One woman said that the problems which came with the LSC are “a Pandora’s box.”

In reference to the lack of thermal impact, she said, “We shouldn’t be begging them to have a [site which measures the impact]; they should be doing it from day one.”

One of the recommendations which Werthman gave was that there should be continued monitoring of the LSC facility, especially within the next two years, since data has only been available for the two years it has been running.

In addition, Werthman said that a short-term thermal evaluation is needed to see if the LSC complies with state law, where a “recording thermister” could be used to monitor these impacts.

“We want to make sure they keep it monitored to 2004,” Werthman said. “There is a high degree of confidence that the LSC is not affecting the quality of the lake.”

After the presentation, audience members spent over an hour and a half addressing questions and comments to Werthman. Issues ranged from the suspicion that the University is keeping data from the community to the implications that the LSC has with water temperature and phosphorus output.

“I think the jury is still out with the data being unavailable,” said Rich DePaolo, a spokesperson for the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund, an organization which has been following LSC developments for the past five years.

According to DePaolo, the University has partially misconstrued the facts about the effects of thermal impacts, an opinion that Jim Adams, director of utilities and energy management, rejected.

“I think Cornell’s position is that we have already addressed the issue in the LSC project,” Adams said.

He added that if there was a problem, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would inform the University. The DEC helps institute guidelines for structures such as the LSC.

Adams said that the University received the report last week and said that the suggestions will be taken into consideration.

“We’re pleased that Benchmark found there was no significant impact on the lake from the LSC. We’ll be responding to the recommendations as soon as our consultants have a chance to look at the report,” Adams said.

Although the report seemed relatively optimistic, DePaolo said that the community still has many concerns about the LSC and thinks that Benchmark’s results have been informative.

“[Werthman] is doing the best he can do with very limited data,” DePaolo said.


Archived article by Brian Tsao

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