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July 24, 2014
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Town of Callicoon ‘flunks’ the democracy test

Bruce Ferguson

The controversy surrounding the Town of Callicoon’s new comprehensive plan isn’t really about fracking; it’s about democracy. The town board is pushing a plan that’s repugnant to a vast majority of Callicoon residents. A comprehensive plan is supposed to be “founded upon the town’s collective vision for our future;” but for most of us, the board’s draft plan isn’t a vision; it’s a nightmare.

There’s really no excuse for a plan like this. Town residents have been very clear about how we envision the future of our town. A community survey clearly shows that residents value “farmlands and farming,” “protected streams and wetlands” and “protected scenic views” above all else. In short, residents want to preserve the town’s rural character. So why did the town go ahead and draft a plan that welcomes a disruptive industry like fracking?

Constructing even a single gas well will entail clear-cutting and leveling a five-acre site, building an access road and laying pipeline. Hundreds, if not thousands, of diesel truck trips will be required to bring water and waste fluids to and from the well pad. Anywhere from three to seven million gallons of toxic fluid will be mixed on site and then injected underground. Can anyone really pretend this will preserve and protect our scenic views and streams?

And why on earth does the plan say the town’s zoning ordinances should be rewritten to “adequately address new housing needs that could accompany potential new large-scale industrial uses?” Let’s be clear, we’re talking about “man camps”—housing for out-of-state gas workers who will move in, frack, and then move on to the next town or another state. Housing for all male workers without ties to the local community breeds trouble. Increased crime, prostitution and drug activity go along with man camps. If you don’t believe me, Google the newspaper headlines from regions where the gas industry has set up shop: “Drilling boom brings surge in crime to small towns,” “Horseheads prostitution linked to gas drilling industry,” “Hooker hunt in Wetzel County” and “Bakken oil booms, police expect rise in drug trafficking, prostitution, gun crimes.”

There’s no evidence that anyone wants man camps except the person who inserted this language into the plan. In the town’s community survey, 50% of the residents said less residential development was important. Only 26% favored more residential development—and I bet not many of that 26% were thinking of man camps when they completed the survey.

There’s not a single measure of public opinion that justifies the town board’s pro-fracking, pro-man camp draft plan. The town’s own community survey found that 88% of the people who expressed an opinion about gas drilling said they did not want it. More than two thirds of the 997 voters and property owners who responded to a postcard survey last summer said that they didn’t want drilling. That was very similar to the results of a Pulse Opinion Poll of Sullivan County residents that found 69% of the respondents opposed hydraulic fracturing in their town.

Each of those surveys was conducted anonymously. So what happens when members of the community go on the record, by name, and offer their opinions? So far, at least 478 residents have made their views known to the town, either by writing letters, signing petitions or speaking out at public hearings. Four hundred and sixty-nine individuals have made it clear they don’t want fracking or man camps; only nine individuals have expressed support the draft comprehensive plan in its present form.

That’s 98% to two percent. The people have spoken. Now it’s time for the town board to listen.

[Bruce Ferguson is a prominent member of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. In 2011, he ran for supervisor in the Town of Callicoon on the Democrat and Rural Heritage party lines.]