All roads lead to Albany; county legislators debate gas drilling support
April 20, 2011 —
Like other communities considering the issue of gas drilling, the Town of Highland would like to protect its town roads if drilling activity becomes intense. The town has been working with seven other towns over the past two years to create road-use agreements that would cover damage to town roads caused not only by trucks related to gas drilling, but any trucks that heavily use town roads.
Highland officials want the New York State Legislature to amend traffic laws to make it explicitly clear that towns have the authority to require truckers to enter into such agreements, which might require some truckers to post bonds.
The town sent a letter to the Sullivan County Legislature asking for a resolution in support of the law change be sent to Albany. At a meeting at the government center on April 14, lawmaker Frank Armstrong said he agreed with the intent of the request, which would strengthen the concept of home rule. But he said a resolution in support of Highland “is an anti-drilling statement, and it’s not something we should do.”
Lawmaker David Sager said that Highland’s position was the same one taken by the New York State Association of Towns, and would give communities the ability to protect their roads against the inherent risk of gas drilling. He said, “My tax dollars should not go to repair roads damaged by activity that is going to benefit the few.”
But others had questions about how the road-use agreements would affect existing trucks on town roads, such as milk and logging trucks.
Lawmaker Alan Sorenson said he would need more time before he could support the Highland request; he said he wanted to see details of how the road-use agreements would impact local trucks.
Bob Meyer, the commissioner of the Department of Public Works, was asked if the county would be able to have road-use agreements. Meyer said the county is in a different position because, as a rule, county roads are constructed to higher standards than town roads and would be better able to withstand the traffic.
Lawmaker Kathy LaBuda suggested that the board wait a month before taking a vote on the matter because she expected the state legislature will be getting a letter from the Sullivan County Association of Town Supervisors in the coming weeks regarding the road-use agreements. The lawmakers agreed to table the issue.
On a related matter, Sager asked the county attorney, Sam Yasgur, to provide an opinion on whether elected officials who may have a financial interest in gas drilling, such as a signed lease, should be voting on gas drilling issues. The opinion should be available in the coming weeks.