Alarmed at a process they perceive to be moving too swiftly, representatives of several hunting and fishing clubs in the Town of Highland turned out to raise concerns about a proposed zoning rewrite targeting industrial uses such as gas drilling at the town’s monthly meeting on April 10. The board listened to many of the remarks, but reminded speakers that the session was not a public hearing where comments are received. That hearing has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on May 4 in the Junior/Senior High School in Eldred.
“I prevail on everyone to let your voice be heard at that time,” said supervisor Andrew Boyar. Boyar urged residents to become informed by reading the 13-page document detailing the proposed Phase One draft of the zoning rewrite. The document was available at the meeting and can be obtained at the town hall or Sunshine Hall Free Library in Eldred.
In response to a charge that the process has moved too fast, Boyar said, “This hasn’t been a rush to judgment. The Town of Highland has been talking for years about what a small town can do to protect itself,” he said. “Other towns have considered the issue. The city of Albany passed this type of thing; Corning, Ithaca, towns throughout the Finger Lakes, the Towns of Tusten and Lumberland have all passed regulations on fracking.” Boyar reminded residents that the state has pre-empted towns from having any say in the regulation of the industry.
Some questioned whether the town should wait for the results of lawsuits filed against some towns for similar restrictions before proceeding. Matt Troy, vice president of the Highland Field and Stream Club (HFSC), asked the town to extend its moratorium while the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Delaware River Basin Commission complete their regulations.
James Hanson of Beaver Brook Rod and Gun Club expressed concern that the town is “confiscating land-use rights, zoning and code rights” and questioned the composition of the volunteer task force. “Even though you put it in the papers, everybody’s working. If somebody had called me, or my wife [Doreen Hanson is the Highland Town Clerk] had come home and said, ‘The town wants to take your gas and mineral rights away,’ I think we would have found the time to come to a meeting.”
HFSC president Fred Reber said he didn’t think large landowners were represented. Boyar said, “I’ve asked for months at every meeting for volunteers. Only four have stepped forward. When you ask for volunteers to work on this stuff, who shows up? No one. Only those willing to put in 30 to 40 hours of their own time.”
Reber continued, “I’ve lived here for 65 years and these rules and regulations go against my grain. We were offered a $5 million contract from Cabot Oil and Gas two years ago, which we turned down. We’re concerned about the environment as much as anybody, but we want the ability to sell our mineral rights in the future and keep our club solvent for another 88 years.”
Eldred resident John Thomas Vogt said he would like to see gas drilling employment opportunities closer to home. Since 2008, Vogt has worked for the gas industry in Pennsylvania, staking out roads, water impoundments and pipelines in Susquehanna, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Born and raised in Eldred, Vogt attended Glen Spey’s Homestead School and graduated from Paul Smith’s College of the Adirondacks.
The 24-year-old said he believes that gas extraction can be done safely but that “there are better ways to frack.” While acknowledging the recent blowup of the Lathrop Compressor Station in Springville Township, PA, Vogt said the only incident he personally experienced was a fuel truck spill. “You can’t believe all the bad things you hear,” he said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen. I love to hunt and I want to be able to stay here, so I want to see it done the right way.”
In other matters, the Town of Highland Health Fair is scheduled for April 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., while the town has set its Spring Cleanup Day for May 19, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. The Republican primary will be conducted from 12 noon to 9 p.m. on April 24. Details are available at 845/557-6085.