From the Brookfield Supervisor
By John Salka
(Brookfield, NY – Sept. 2012) The Brookfield Town Board held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss passing a local law to institute a moratorium on drilling for natural gas within our town. It was a meeting that was well-attended, and people had an opportunity to voice their opinions on how they felt about an issue that has become as polarizing as any that we have seen in a long time.
It was at this meeting that we directed our town attorney to present to us a proposal for such a moratorium. I have tried to follow this issue over the past five years and found that it has the potential to drive a wedge into a town, turn neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend and landowner against landowner.
The issue of natural gas drilling certainly has many arguments both for and against, and it seems sometimes that there are just no simple answers to which direction a community should go. It certainly has been shown to have many economic benefits as has been shown in a number of towns and municipalities where it has been done. This is something desperately needed for many businesses, in particular our farms, who are struggling every day to make ends meet, and it is no doubt we need our local farms now more than ever.
On the other hand, as with any industrial undertaking such as this, there are inherent risks that come with allowing drilling to take place. There are documented cases of serious environmental impact, local economies being affected both advantageously and detrimentally and roads being strained to their limits by the increased amount of truck traffic necessary to support drilling operations. All this can either resurrect a community or bring it to its knees financially and socially.
Here in our town, where approximately 20 percent of the land is leased, it could be a savior for those landowners who are struggling to keep their properties off the auction block, properties that have been in families for generations. To lose these would be tragic to our community. To allow those properties to slip away, lay dormant or – even worse – be subject to runaway development would truly be an injustice to all those years of hard work that went into making them an important part of our town. We must not allow that to happen, and we have a commitment to doing everything we can to prevent that.
Again, another side of the argument: drilling can alter the landscape and the makeup of a community, cause changes that may last a very long time and bring about issues that many find very difficult to understand and to accept. This should not happen.
In Brookfield, as in many communities across the state, we have decided to explore the possibility of a moratorium to drilling. The reasoning behind this in a nutshell is that it gives our town, its elected representatives, planning board and comprehensive plan committee and codes enforcement time to plan for what may happen, prepare a means of protecting our town’s infrastructure and its environment and observe what may be happening in other parts of the state.
It will also allow for more education about drilling, something that polls show is lacking in many places. It gives us time to develop a strategy for protecting our town through a road use law. And it is not zoning; it is simply buying some time to make sure all our available resources are in place.
As was stated by one of the presenters at our meeting, Bruce Selleck, professor of geology at Colgate University and a local respected resource on gas drilling, there most likely will not be any drilling in our area for two or three years or more depending on the market for natural gas. There is a glut of it right now, and although there are many variables in the worldwide energy supply, we can be assured that it may be some time before we see rigs pulling into the town of Brookfield.
If and when that happens, to leave ourselves depending merely on the promise that things will be made right without having some kind of protections in place would be wrong. We have the responsibility of being the guardians of our community, and we would be neglecting those responsibilities if we did nothing. Doing nothing did not work in North Brookfield and should not be allowed to ever happen again.
It has been said that the issue of gas drilling is an elected official’s worst nightmare. I beg to differ. If we start to consider difficult decisions that we are elected to make as nightmares, we probably should not be trying to represent our communities when these types of issues arise, and you can guarantee this will not be the only major issue before us now and in the future that will require difficult choices.
The key is to let this process play itself out. We hope to have a proposal of the local law presented to the board at our meeting Sept. 10 and to hold a public hearing sometime after that allowing for the proper notices to be made. I urge all who have an interest in the wellbeing of our town to attend; this is an issue that is about as important as one can be.
Town representatives could not and should not make such an important decision in a vacuum; we need public input, all the facts both for and against, and stick by whatever decision we make.
As with anything else, we will not please everyone; this is just too divisive of an issue. What we hope to do is what we were elected to do, and that is to represent the citizens of our town in the best possible manner, plan for the future and maintain our promise to do what’s best for Brookfield.
John Salka is supervisor of the town of Brookfield.