This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs the blog “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”
It’s a piece of history made relevant with the current spat over the future of the Cayuga power plant. This story shaped the course of the region’s energy needs — up to and including the current fight.
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Back in the early 1970s, New York and certain large power companies were looking to build a few power plants, technologically-advanced nuclear facilities. A few of these plants were commissioned – Fitzpatrick (Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Fitzgerald, not Fitzpatrick) and Nine Mile Point (in Oswego County), for instance.
I bring up these two facilities because I grew up in their geographic shadow. Certainly, the locals are glad for the hundreds of job provided; but there’s also the implicit acceptance that if something really major gets fouled up, you and all of your neighbors are screwed, and you’re reminded of this when the postings for iodine pill distribution are sent out.
For anyone living in the span from Oswego down to Syracuse, you know they are there, you know they are dangerous, but you shrug it off and accept them for the economic benefits. Maybe not the best attitude, but that is what it is.
Well, the attitude was more cavalier in the swinging ’60s. The state was considering sites, and thought it would be great to place one near Ithaca – in Lansing, to be exact.
In 1968, NYSEG announced its intention to build the “Bell Station Nuclear Power Plant” on the shores of Cayuga Lake, in the northwest corner of Lansing, about twenty minutes’ drive north of Cornell. The facility would have been just to the north of the Milliken Station coal plant. The Tompkins County Board of Supervisors approved the project.
Well, the public reaction was not as supportive. A grassroots group, “Trumansburg United to Save Cayuga Lake”, was formed, with the express purpose of derailing the project (it was claimed that thermal pollution from the plant would destroy the ecological habitat of the lake).
Dozens of professors and environmental scientists at Cornell and IC spoke out against the project. The sour public opinion caused the proposal/approval to drag on for years (yet, the negativity was not as widespread as the local editorials made it seem).
The Trumansburg folks probably would not have stopped the Ward Center Nuclear Reactor at Cornell, which was smaller and built several years earlier, because initially the concern was the lakeside location, not nuclear power. But by 1973, as the dangers of nuclear activity moved into the scrutiny of the public eye, the negative attention turned towards plants themselves.
On June 15, 1973, NYSEG decided to give up on the Lansing location, the public sentiment against the project being a major factor in their decision. As a result, they pursued a location in the town of Somerset, in Niagara County. In the early stages of construction, it was discovered that a fault line lay 40 miles away, which would have made retrofitting necessary, and the nuclear plant infeasible. So the facility was changed to a coal power plant, and this opened as the Kintigh Generating Station in 1984.
As for the land the plant was to be built on in Lansing, the state leased some of it out to neighboring farms, and the other half remained undeveloped woodlands. Recently, the town has been mulling the idea of taking over management of the site, with a proposal being considered that would turn its 490 acres into a lakeside wildlife and recreational area.”
One surmises this is probably more acceptable to the local residents than a nuclear power plant.