The issue at hand
July 14, 2011 —
At a public hearing on June 30, the draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dGEIS) for the Sullivan County Multi-Municipal Task Force’s (MMTF) proposed road use and preservation program (RUP) came under heavy attack. While some important and legitimate points were raised, much of the discussion got diverted into a question that is beside the point: the question as to the potential impact of natural gas drilling on our area. We believe that this issue does not fall under the proper purview of the document, nor would the passage of laws adopting the RUP in any way influence, one way or another, the likelihood that gas drilling will come here.
The program itself is conditional. In fact, unless some industrial user proposes a project in the area, whether to drill for natural gas, lay more pipeline or build a casino, it will not be triggered. Only after someone proposes a project that would generate traffic above the current baseline would the RUP come into play. Its role at that time would be to ensure that the developer uses only routes that can handle the volume of traffic generated by the project in question, and pays for any upgrades, maintenance and repairs needed to keep the roads at, or restore them to, baseline levels—letting the taxpayer off the hook.
Accordingly, the dGEIS is not meant to assess the impact of the industrial development that generates traffic. Instead, assuming that such traffic occurs, it is meant to assess the consequences of having the RUP in place, as opposed to the conditions that would ensue without such a program.
Thus, for instance, one comment criticized the dGEIS for not quantifying the many thousands of truck trips that could be expected for each natural gas well pad constructed. But the same volume of traffic would occur with or without the RUP; therefore, how many trips are taken is not a matter of concern for this dGEIS. It is only responsible for addressing the question: How would the impact of those trips differ under the RUP and without it?
The answer to that question appears to be related for the most part to the fact that, after any given developer has been identified as a “high risk” user, the program’s next step is to designate certain permissible haul routes. Impacts from noise, odor, risks of spillage, roadwork needed for maintenance and repair and the like would be more highly concentrated on those routes than they would be with no RUP. Without the program, there would be just as much traffic, but the effects would be distributed more evenly and randomly around town.