SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The goal was $100,000. The effort to raise it began on June 4 and already more than $55,000 in pledges have been received in support of a legal defense fund to protect three Sullivan County towns in the event of a legal challenge to zoning provisions prohibiting high impact industrial activity.
Concerned citizens groups in the towns of Highland, Lumberland and Tusten have combined forces to launch the fund. The groups are not asking for donations of money at this time, but rather, pledges of support should the need arise. The money will be collected only in the event of a legal challenge.
Currently, each of the towns is working on zoning ordinances to prohibit high-impact industrial uses, as are other areas of the state, such as Ithaca, the Finger Lakes, Cooperstown and Lake Otsego.
“The defense fund will help demonstrate to our town officials that they have our full support in taking this action, and that we will not allow the fear of legal challenge to deter us from this goal,” wrote Highland Concerned Citizens (HCC) in an outreach email.
Based on the initial response and growing interest, Peter Comstock of Lumberland Concerned Citizens (LCC) said he believes the pledge total will easily pass the $100,000 target. “We are determined to fight to protect the natural and cultural heritage of our river valley. We know we will prevail in a court of law, because our zoning against high-impact industrial activity is sensible and our legal right under NY State home rule authority," Comstock said.
A document being distributed by the groups calls the issue the fight of the century. “Large-scale industrialization threatens the quality of life of the people living in the Upper Delaware River Valley,” it asserts. In response to the potential threats of large scale water use, the disposal or storage of deleterious substances, high frequency truck traffic, underground injection of deleterious substances, injection wells, and any use of land that is likely to result in degradation of private water systems, new provisions are being drafted into the towns’ comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances.
Instead, the towns are encouraging things like low impact, environmentally responsible industry, sustainable development, preservation and enhancement of the amenities of small town life, high-quality educational and cultural opportunities and tourism.
According to LCC, towns have every right to take such actions because of New York State’s Home Rule authority, which gives municipalities broad powers to make land-use decisions that protect their resources and quality of life.
The legal fund is seen as one way to shore up town officials who waver on the issue. Kevin Vertrees of Tusten Concerned Citizens (TCC), said, “Town boards throughout the area have argued potential litigation is a reason for not taking proactive measures that protect the health, safety and welfare of our communities. TCC believes this fundraising initiative significantly raises the bar and gives neighboring towns the reassurance that others will support them against legal actions as they work to limit the hazards of high impact industrial activities.”
"Our solidarity could be our greatest strength, and I hope more towns will join this initiative,” said Carol Roig of HCC. “The wisdom and generosity of our various concerned citizens members is nothing short of inspiring."
Pledges may be dedicated to the defense of any town in Sullivan County which enacts similar zoning restrictions or limited to the defense of a specific town. The pledge form, along with contact information for representatives of each town’s citizens group, can be seen on The River Reporter’s website.