Rounds of applause sounded repeatedly in the Highland Town Hall, as the town council passed a six-month moratorium prohibiting high impact industrial uses such as those associated with natural gas development on April 12.
The move occurred during the town’s monthly meeting, following a public hearing on the matter during which multiple letters of support for the moratorium were presented and public testimony, all of which supported the moratorium, was heard.
On March 15, the town board had also engaged the services of attorneys Helen and David Slottje on a pro bono basis to draft a zoning ordinance prohibiting high impact industrial uses.
The efforts have been spurred by the desire to avoid the town’s transformation into an industrial zone and to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.
Approximately 350 signatures from residents, property owners and business owners have been collected by HCC in support of a petition urging the town to take any and all legal actions to protect the town from the impacts of natural gas drilling and other high impact industrial uses that are incompatible with the rural character of the community.
Carol Roig, a member of Highland Concerned Citizens (HCC), told the board that those signing the petition support actions by Highland officials to make necessary changes to the town code to strengthen protections of clean air and water quality; to prevent damage to aquifers; to prohibit the use, storage or disposal of hazardous chemicals; and to minimize light and noise pollution.
“We’re not alone in these efforts,” said Roig. “Towns all over New York are taking similar actions. We can’t depend on state or federal regulators to do this, and we can’t wait for the kind of dire consequences that would persuade them that this action is necessary.” HCC is also hoping to inspire other towns to pursue similar initiatives.
Members of Lumberland Concerned Citizens also attended the
meeting to lend their support even as they work to finalize their own zoning ordinance prohibiting high impact industrial development. The efforts would help to create a zone protecting the adjoining towns from the industrialization that accompanies the development of natural gas. Meanwhile, Tusten Concerned Citizens is working with the Town of Tusten to secure similar protections.
In coming weeks, Highland’s Planning Board will finalize its update of the Town of Highland Comprehensive Plan in preparing for the zoning changes.
Highland supervisor Andrew Boyar reported that he was asked to participate in a Washington, DC lobbying effort with the nationwide group Sportsmen for Responsible Energy. Boyar served as a delegate on behalf of Trout Unlimited.
“My stance on energy issues has been consistent and steadfast,” he said. “I am pro-environment. Period. Our group met with 70 legislators on Capitol Hill and we lobbied primarily on health and environmental issues concerning natural gas. It opened some eyes and helped put important environmental issues on the table.”
Boyar also applauded the “outstanding team effort” in Highland on the issue of natural gas and expressed his concerns over recent developments during his report on the Upper Delaware Council (UDC).
“The chairperson of the UDC, Dolores Keesler, was relieved of her duties by her town board, the supervisors of the Town of Damascus,” explained Boyar. “Not only did she lose her chairmanship, but she’s no longer a representative on the council. This move came as quite a shock to many of us, as she was highly regarded by most, including myself, and was an example of an exquisitely fair and even-handed chairperson.”
In light of that development, council member James Gutekunst put forth a resolution that the town board “supports unwaiveringly” its representatives on the Upper Delaware Council and the Multi-Municipal Task Force. The resolution passed.
The town board also passed several additional local laws. Information is available on each at the town hall in Eldred, or by contacting town clerk Doreen Hanson at 845/557-6085.