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Callicoon, towns and gas drilling

By Fritz Mayer
September 28, 2011

As a member of the Sullivan County Multi-Municipal Task Force (MMTF), officials in the Town of Callicoon are considering the adoption of a road-use agreement that would allow them to protect their roads if a high-impact industrial use, such as gas drilling, moved into town.

Also, the town’s draft comprehensive plan mentions concerns about gas drilling several times in terms of posing a possible threat to local water supplies and related environmental hazards, but unlike some other towns in the MMTF, Callicoon officials are not seeking to adopt zoning changes that would seriously restrict or ban high impact industrial uses and, therefore, gas drilling.

Also, unlike some of the other towns, officials have not held a meeting specifically centered on gas drilling, and have not expressed opposition to it taking place in the town. In Bethel, virtually all candidates running for office in November have declared their opposition to the coming of drilling; the same is also true in Lumberland, Highland and Tusten. In Cochecton, the official position is that officials are neutral on the question, which has sparked criticism from some residents at meetings.

Against this backdrop, the Democratic Club of the Town of Callicoon sponsored a meeting at the town hall in Jeffersonville on September 24. The supervisor and members of the town board did not attend, but Bruce Ferguson, who is running for supervisor, and Linda Babicz and Jill Wiener, who are running for seats on the town board, were on hand.

William Kappel, who is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, gave a presentation and fielded questions from the approximately 80 people in attendance. Much of the discussion centered on the proposed final draft for the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that was released by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on September 7.

Judging by the questions asked, it’s safe to say that three years after the subject of gas drilling arose in the region, there are still members of the public with questions about the process, such as who is responsible for obtaining baseline information about the quality of water in a home-
owner’s well to be used if a well is contaminated by gas drilling. That answer: in New York, it’s the responsibility of the homeowner; in Pennsylvania, if there is a contaminated well near a drilling operation, it’s up to the drilling company to prove it did not cause the contamination. Kappel said he had hoped the draft SGEIS would alter the situation in New York, but it didn’t happen.

Town of Dryden, defending a lawsuit

The Town of Dryden in Tompkins County adopted zoning regulations earlier this year that specifically prohibited gas drilling. On September 16, the Anschutz Exploration Corporation filed a lawsuit against the town challenging the zoning, claiming that local zoning in the case of drilling is pre-empted by the NYS Environmental Conservation Law.
In an email, the supervisor of the town, Mary Ann Sumner, responded to a couple of questions from The River Reporter.

TRR: Were you prepared for the lawsuit, and can the town afford to fight this legal battle?

Sumner: We thought it was quite likely that some oil/gas company would sue some municipality. We didn’t know for sure that it would be us. And we didn’t expect it to be so soon. We have no choice but to “afford” it. And we knew that when we passed the legislation. It will mean deferring some other projects that are more helpful to the town. But we don’t roll over to the playground bully just because standing up is expensive. Land use authority versus regulating the industry can only be decided in court and the sooner the better.

TRR: Do most of the residents of Dryden agree with the zoning change to prevent drilling, and is it a matter that split the community?

Sumner: Yes. And yes. We received a petition with about 1,600 signatures asking us to ban hydrofracking. Since we are enjoined by the state from regulating the drilling industry, we acted by affirming our “permissive zoning” (if a land use is not specifically permitted, it’s prohibited) rather than address hydrofracking alone. At subsequent public meetings, we received more than 100 comments, about 4 to 1 supporting our action. Still, it’s been quite divisive. The most passionate people on both sides are—well—passionate.