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December 04, 2016
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Cochecton considers road use agreement

The Town of Cochecton has received the final draft of the Road Use Law written for eight local towns, and it seems the way is paved for adoption. The board may vote on the law at its December meeting. “I would assume that the board would adopt the law at that point,” said Supervisor Gary Maas.

Known as Multiple Municipal Task Force (MMTF) Local Law One on the agenda, the law was written to protect town roads from high-impact industrial uses, which would cover trucking activities that support the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas.

According to the law, if a company wants to use the roads for a large project, they would have to provide information for the town to gauge the effect the movement of equipment and trucks would have on municipal roads. If the highway superintendent finds that there will be excessive wear and tear, it triggers the law, and companies would be required to put up money ahead of time to either upgrade the roads before they use them, or to repair them after damage is done. It also gives towns the ability to determine truck routes; for example, trucks could be routed away from schools.

As straightforward as it seems, there are very different takes on the motivation behind, and effectiveness of, the new law.

With the Millennium Pipeline (MP) situation fresh in their minds, some believe it’s a way to protect these towns from potential disaster. During the pipeline’s construction, large trucks and the movement of gigantic industrial equipment wreaked havoc on the small country roads. Cochecton had received money that was put in escrow, which it used to negotiate a settlement with MP. The dollar amount of the damage created is still a matter of debate and was negotiated after the fact, but the town received compensation for damages.

There are those who believe the passage of this law invites the controversial gas wells. The law, said resident Grace Van Hulsteyn, doesn’t reflect recent legal developments on the issue. “At the time the plan was developed, the prospect of drilling was viewed more positively than it is now, and it was generally believed that there was little that towns could do to control it anyway, so that simply requiring gas companies to take responsibility for their road use was a good start. But much has changed since then. We’ve learned that towns can ban drilling completely if they want to.”

She asked, if the law is not to prevent fracking, then what is it for? “Were there other kinds of new truckers waiting on the MMTF? No.”

Maas sees it differently, “I don’t agree with that. I don’t think that is exactly the purpose. The purpose is to protect the roads.”

That prompts the question: What if the law is passed and fracking doesn’t happen? Maas said that the expanding Town of Bethel, one of the eight that helped create the law, is backing out of the law now. New construction is requisite for growth, so if passed, the fear of triggering the law and having to pay for damages could deter companies from taking the chance of building there.

“Bethel is certainly a growing community and possibly a mall, or large business would go in there and trip the mechanism [law]. They were concerned about that kind of situation,” said Maas.

As for fracking in New York State, Maas said, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) admitted that Superstorm Sandy has halted the health impact study. The November 29 deadline for the governor’s decision, which he said will be linked to the DEC’s recommendation, is quickly approaching. If missed, the whole process would start over, including further public comment. According to Maas, “Gas drilling isn’t coming to New York anytime soon.” But apparently, the Road Use Law is.