Joe Martens, the commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said on October 25 that it is not clear if gas-drilling permits will be issued in 2012, because the High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel was going to miss a November 1 deadline to file a related report to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Still, Bethel is one of four towns in Sullivan County moving steadily ahead with the adoption of zoning rules that would prevent gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the town. The intention of the board is to have the new zoning in place before the DEC begins to issue drilling permits.
At the Bethel town meeting on October 25, resident Hal Salzman criticized supervisor Dan Sturm for creating a zoning review committee to review the proposed amendment that would ban fracking, and said it seemed to be delaying the process.
Sturm reiterated his position that the review was needed to tailor the amendment to the needs of Bethel, and council member Vicky Vassmer Simpson added that the committee wanted to be sure that the amendment did not keep other businesses, which would otherwise be welcomed, out of the town.
Council member Denise Frangipane said that watching other communities going through the same process, she thought the part that would be most time consuming was the State Environmental Quality Review, which would require public hearings, and the need to respond to any and all comments.
Sturm said that the amendment would probably be ready to present to the town board and the public by December 15. He said even if the DEC were to operate on a very aggressive schedule, the agency would not issue any permits before the middle of February 2012.
Council member Richard Crumley said he was undecided about drilling and the amendment.
In other news, the board accepted Sturm’s preliminary budget for 2012, which he said was $50,000 less than the amount allowed by the state-mandated 2% property tax cap. He said the small increase was achieved in spite of the rise of cost of retirement payments, health insurance, workers compensation and other programs. He said, “It’s a bare bones budget with some shared sacrifice.”
During public comment, resident Josh Teitelbaum criticized the board for spending $51,000 in legal costs related to Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson, and their frequent large gatherings and Woodstock reunions at their property on Route 17B. Teitelbaum accused the town of “bullying” the couple, and said the town was selectively enforcing its code.
Sturm said $51,000 was the amount the town spent from 2005 through the present, and that since Sturm became supervisor in 2008, the amount spent was $3,080. He said the couple had permits to have 250 people camp on their property during the Phish weekend, but had advertised for up to 5,000 people, promising 28 bands, food and other activities.
He said that Howard and Abramson had violated a consent order. As such, the board would collect a $25,000 fine, plus legal fees if the couple appealed and, as supervisor, he had no choice but to pursue the matter in court.