Town Board to Discuss Possible Local Laws on Natural Gas Activity

(Randallsville, Lebanon, NY – June 2012) Lebanon town officials agreed to invite environmental attorneys David and Helen Slottje, the architects of a current local law being used by local municipalities to ban natural gas development in Upstate New York. Supervisor Jim Goldstein said he hopes to host a meeting on the issues of a proposed road use law, a temporary moratorium and a possible ban on future natural gas development sometime in July.

The move follows detailed discussion with Town Attorney Steve Jones at the June 11 monthly town board meeting at the Smith Valley Community Center in Randallsville.

Town officials cited the need to expedite considerations due to recent news reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo may allow permitting of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “hydrofracking” or “fracking,” of Marcellus and possibly Utica shale in five upstate counties including Chenango County this fall. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is completing its review of more than 60,000 public comments on the proposed SGEIS that would govern HVHF drilling of Marcellus Shale in New York state that has sparked a large debate statewide.

Local residents Dan Saulsgiver of Lebanon Hill/Reservoir Road and Gina Sakal of River Road voiced concerns about hydrofracking and favored the town taking some action. Saulsgiver said he was particularly concerned about the impact of and disposal of wastewater that would come from drilling.

Town officials discussed the pros and cons with Jones of enacting a road use law, considering a moratorium to give the town time to prepare for the SGEIS regulations – Jones agreed with the recommendation of the Slottjes that if the town does decide to take these actions, it should be done before and not after the SGEIS regulations are finalized.

Goldstein said an offer was made by the Slottjes to appear at no charge to discuss the local law that they have developed that an increasing number of local governments are utilizing to ban natural gas drilling or enacting moratoriums on natural gas development. Jones said that hosting the Slottjes and having a vigorous exchange of ideas were good ideas that he recommended the town board pursue.

Jones also recommended the town also be willing to hear from others with differing views on the issue who were qualified.

Goldstein said he did not have a final position on these issues but felt obligated to raise the question and give impetus to public feedback and discussion. He said the town would be looking for a civil and informed debate, not ideological conflicts between various groups that advocate a certain position.

Planning Chair Gary Will recommended the town revisit its windmill ordinance, given changes in the industry, and update it. He asked the town board to appoint a committee. Will also reported on behalf of Comprehensive Planning Chair Suzanne Galbraith that at least five members of the committee have resigned or stopped their participation. The group is trying to finalize the town-wide survey but predicted it wouldn’t be finished in time to offer recommendations on these issues, as the process may take well into next year before the committee is ready with recommendations.

Goldstein said that the town board has not made any specific decision on how to proceed and is still evaluating the options in open discussions at town board meetings, and welcomes input from town residents on these issues. Initial surveys done of town residents showed overwhelming support for a road use law, substantial majority support for a temporary moratorium on future natural gas development and an almost evenly divided response for and against banning natural gas development.

Some residents have indicated that they are not as concerned about the historic vertical drilling in the Herkimer and Medina sandstone formations that were primarily acted on by Norse Energy, Inc., now EmKey Resources, LLC, of Delaware and Pennsylvania, over the last decade, but wanted HVHF banned, and others were confused as to what would happen to existing wells if a ban was adopted.

Goldstein said that from the discussions he has attended at various municipal workshops, a ban in a town where natural gas drilling has already occurred would not impact existing wells, which would be grandfathered in, but it would impact future drilling and would have to include all forms of drilling, as towns can ban but cannot regulate natural gas extraction.

Towns with zoning ordinances can restrict natural gas drilling to certain segments of a township, but Lebanon does not have zoning regulations and relies on a Land Management Local Law, a subdivision law and the state Uniform Fire and Building Code by state law in its current form to manage land use issues.

Jones said banning natural gas development in a town where drilling has already been occurring for more than 40 years and in which there is no zoning, presents unique challenges.

The Slottjes, who are employed by the Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, are based in Ithaca and charge no fees for their services. They rely on private donations from individuals and foundations concerned about environmental issues.

Goldstein said that scheduling demands require the town to try to schedule this discussion on a Saturday morning in July. He said the public will be advised once the date is finalized, and the meeting will be open to the public but, as with all town board meetings, opportunities for public comment will follow the current town board meeting format.

The Town Board will next meet on Monday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Offices, 1210 Bradley Brook Road in the hamlet.

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