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Cochecton councilman proposes drilling ban; Fellow lawmakers not interested

Councilmember Larry Richardson, left, listens as supervisor Gary Maas explains his position regarding a ban on gas drilling.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
January 16, 2013

Larry Richardson said his views on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing have evolved over the years. He’s now convinced that the best way to protect the town against the possible harms of drilling is to follow the lead of four other Sullivan County towns, and adopt a ban on gas drilling.

Richardson, a long-time member of the Cochecton Town Board, made the comments during a brief PowerPoint presentation at the town meeting on January 9. He listed a number of concerns that are well known to residents of the county, as well as a couple that have not received much attention. For instance, he said that the hospital in Tioga County, PA would operate at a loss this year because, while gas drilling jobs are well paid, many of them don’t come with health insurance, and that has impacted the hospital’s bottom line.

Richardson asked if a ban could be put on the agenda for next month’s meeting, but his proposal received no support from the other members of the board. Supervisor Gary Maas said he agrees that there is probably room for improvement in the process of drilling and fracking and, he said, in time it may come.

But he said his basic position on gas drilling has not changed. He said the New York Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for regulating drilling and until the organization issues its new regulations, he was not going to make a decision about drilling.

Councilmember Anna Story said she had never told anyone she was in favor of or opposed to gas drilling, but she was prompted by a letter from a constituent to change her position from “neutral” on the issue to “undecided” because she understood that was the preferred terminology among some residents.

After the discussion, resident Allan Rubin noted many people in the town signed a petition criticizing the board’s neutral position on drilling. He said, “It is not acceptable to ignore the will of the 586 people who signed that petition.”

It is possible that drilling will become an issue in the election for town supervisor this fall. In the 2011 election, a candidate on the Rural Heritage line was easily defeated by Maas, but there was no opponent running on the Democratic line. Maas ran on the Republican, Conservative and Independence lines.

Richardson, a Democrat, said several people had asked him to run for the supervisor position but he said, “I’m hoping we’ll find someone else.”