It has been the stated position of the Comprehensive Plan Committee of the Town of Callicoon that the survey taken three years ago does not provide enough information to determine whether the majority of the town is opposed to or in favor of gas drilling.
At a public hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan update on June 27, 44 people spoke against allowing drilling in the town and 10 spoke in favor of it. While a couple of the speakers were from out of town, even without them the margin was still four to one opposed to drilling.
For some, that is evidence enough that the majority is against drilling and it should be banned from the town, as has been the case in Tusten, Lumberland and Bethel. Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy said that of the people who commented on gas drilling on the survey, 88% were against it.
He added that with petitions being presented to the town that night, there were approximately 500 people expressing opposition to drilling and hydraulic fracturing. He suggested there could be legal action if the committee or the board takes action in opposition to the will of the majority.
(According to the 2012 census, there are 3057 residents in the town.)
Resident Alvin Shoop said that questions about how the population feels about drilling could be cleared up with a new survey, one concerned with whether people were for or against drilling or had no opinion. Shoop said he had guarantees from various people to cover some of the $2800 cost, and a show of hands indicated many other people would pitch in.
Former Sullivan County Legislator David Sager told the committee that elected and appointed officials in the town, according to New York Municipal Home Rule law, have a duty to protect the safety and well-being within the town. He suggested that updating the plan in a way that invites drilling into the town, also invites lawsuits from those who might be harmed by it.
The issue brought forward people who don’t normally turn out to town meetings. Pablo Ramirez, a member of the seasonal community of Swiss Forest in Shandelee, presented a petition with 40 signatures of residents there who were opposed to drilling. The reasons for his opposition were repeated throughout the meeting: the protection of the air, water and beauty of the area.
The 10 people who spoke in favor of drilling repeated the assertion that it poses no danger and will provide jobs and money. Earl Meyers, a farmer, indicated that the farmers who were at the meeting hold a special place in the town. “We own most of the land,” he said.
Legislator Cindy Gieger, however, was one farmer who spoke strongly, as she has in the past, against drilling.
Judging by past experience, it is unlikely that the committee will change the proposed plan to reflect the majority view at the meeting that drilling should be banned, and the invitation for industrial activity to move into the town will likely remain.
The next step in the process is for the committee to present the plan to the town board, which then must hold another public hearing on it within 90 days.