Thank you for your editorial of July 21 analyzing the risk of lawsuits by property owners if towns restrict hydrofracking in their zoning regulations. The issues surrounding hydrofracking and the authority and responsibilities of local government are difficult. The risk of lawsuits is a constant concern to town officials and has frequently been cited as the reason they cannot act to protect residents against the danger of hydrofracking. As your editorial makes clear the risk of a successful suit by a property owner is negligible. The dangers posed to our communities from hydrofracking certainly outweigh the risk of landowner lawsuits.
The landscape surrounding gas drilling issues is constantly shifting. For example, another area of great concern to our local officials is the intersection of local authority and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The DEC preliminary revised draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) chapter 8 clarifies some aspects of their respective responsibilities. Among other things, the SGEIS states that local government would be given notice of all applications in their localities and that the gas drillers would have to state that their activities are consistent with the comprehensive plan and other local land use plans. If the gas drilling activities are inconsistent with these plans the DEC would undertake further review of the activities.
This underscores the importance of our comprehensive plans and zoning regulations. These are the documents that will protect our environment, our water and the health and welfare of our residents. Town residents must take an active role in shaping these documents and our elected officials should include residents in the review and revision process in a meaningful way. Also, it is of the utmost importance that our local officials remain aware of changes and respond in ways that take advantage of shifts in policy to further protect our communities.
The River Reporter plays a crucial role in the dissemination of information related to gas drilling and this is of great benefit to local residents.
Jane M. Roth