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Blowback in Fremont; gas drilling resolution sparks admonishments

By Fritz Mayer
August 14, 2012

FREMONT CENTER, NY — There are normally just a couple of members of the public at the Town of Fremont meetings, but at the one held on August 8, the number jumped to more than 70, with residents packed through both doorways and peered in through the windows into the small chamber.

They had come in reaction to a resolution passed during the July meeting that endorsed gas drilling if it was done safely. While a majority of those in the room are opposed to drilling, for some, the more important matter was the way the resolution was passed. Resident Kate Bowers said that some people were informed that the resolution was going to come up, but that most of the community was not.

She said, “I contacted the town clerk that day to see if there was an agenda, but there was none, so you even left out your town clerk. You deceived your community about something that clearly affects all of us. No matter how you feel about gas drilling, this resolution was done wrong.”

Resident Doris Sharp directed a remark to councilperson Paul Kellam. She said, “Paul, I’ve got to say, I came here when the old benches were here, and you specifically stated you didn’t want new chairs because you didn’t like it when people came to these meetings.” She added, “I’ve seen how the town board works—it does some good things, but last month, I don’t think you did such a good thing for your town.”

The board did not respond directly to the charge, but supervisor George Conklin at one point said, “Sometimes things come up.” He added that the board might have a statement about the resolution at the next meeting.

Some residents at the meeting were clearly in favor of the board’s action. Responding to a suggestion that the town should have a wider discussion about gas drilling before a resolution endorsing it is passed, former Sullivan County legislator Frank Armstrong said, “Just listening to what was said already, you can see what the divide is all about. There is pro-drilling, there is anti-drilling, and if you think any protracted conversation is going to change significantly anybody’s mind, you’re wrong. I want to applaud you [the board] for what you did, and hope you hold to it.”

Bill Graby, a member of the Delaware Sullivan Property Owners Association, agreed that residents who opposed drilling were never going to be persuaded that it is safe, even though various university studies have determined that hydraulic fracturing is safe.