WHITE LAKE, NY — The Town of Bethel took another step in the direction of a ban on gas drilling with a presentation on the proposed zoning amendment on February 22. Town attorney Rob McEwan explained that the amendment would not only ban gas drilling, but also a number of processes related to gas drilling, as well as “high impact uses.”
McEwan said, “High impact uses are the kinds of industries that put out large amounts of air pollution, water pollution,” and these are indentified by the North American Industry Classification System Code Numbers, which is a system used by the federal government.
The amendment would prohibit a wide range of manufacturing operations, including the manufacture of such things as glass and pottery objects, but with an exception carved out for craftspeople or artisans with operations that have five or fewer employees.
Further, there is a list of explicitly prohibited uses, which includes uses specifically related to gas drilling, such as natural gas compressor stations, gas processing facilities and non-regulated pipelines. Gambling, which the town board voted to zone out several years ago, is also an explicitly prohibited use.
Zoning consultant Ted Fink also gave a presentation, and said that he examined a number of studies about the impact of gas drilling on communities, including the environmental study conducted by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). That study, he said, focused on the positive economic impacts such as the number of jobs created, but not on the negative ones such as the costs of coping with population increases as drilling ramps up.
He said, “The DEC says very clearly that there will be negative economic impacts, but they made absolutely no attempts to try to quantify those, and for a local government to try to plan for the future, to plan for the types of impacts that can occur in a community once the gas industry moves in, it’s very difficult if not impossible.”
Additionally, he said, five industries have been identified that move into areas once there is a reliable supply of low-cost natural gas. He listed those as: fertilizer production; metal and glass manufacturing; electric power generation; compressed natural gas, primarily for transportation purposes; and the petrochemical industry, which create material that can be used in many products such as plastics, soaps and pharmaceuticals.
The day before the meeting a NYS Supreme Court judge ruled that the Town of Dryden did, in fact, have the right to adopt a zoning amendment that specifically bans gas drilling in the town. In his remarks, McEwan noted the judges ruling.
In public comments after the presentation, Al Larson, one of the founders of the Rural Bethel Landowner Coalition predicted, like many others who have been observing the progression of gas drilling in the state, that the decision would be appealed. He said, “I am certain that we haven’t heard the end of it; it will go to the appellate division.”
The majority of the residents who have attended the meetings have been in support of the drilling ban, but Larson has urged that it be banned only in the eastern part of the town where, in his view, it is not likely to happen anyway, and allowed to go forward in the western part of the town where there is a strong need for the money drilling could bring.
There will be a public hearing on the zoning amendment on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Dr. Duggan Community Center in White Lake.