By Martha E. Conway
(Sullivan – Sept. 5, 2012) Sullivan resident Donna Muhs-McCarten, who was out of the country during the town of Sullivan’s public hearing on natural gas activity, was allowed three minutes to speak at the Sullivan Town Council’s regular meeting Sept. 5.
Muhs-McCarten repeated her position to stop drilling activity in the town, citing others that have enacted moratoria. She asked why no movement had been made on petitions submitted to the town bearing signatures of 425 like-minded individuals and requested the board take action to enact a moratorium to give the town time to zone it out of its future.
The total number of signatures collected represents less than one-sixth of 1 percent of the town’s population.
Supervisor John M. Becker said the Board has overwhelmingly agreed to disallow any drilling activity in residential areas.
“And about 80 percent of those signatures were from people living in residential areas,” Becker said, “but agricultural property is going to be a whole other ballgame.”
Becker said the town board’s position is to let other towns spend the time and money and see what they come up with.
“There’s no sense going through what they are doing and reinventing the wheel,” Becker said.
Becker said the town also has other options available to it, such as adoption of a county-developed solicitation ordinance and a road use agreement to protect infrastructure. The county’s suggested road use agreement is undergoing development but nearing completion.
“No one is going to argue that if it is going to be done, it needs to be done safely,” Becker said. “The farmers who came in here want to protect the environment, too – you heard them say their livelihood depends on it. We are watching these other towns as they do all this work, and they could have a stack of documentation this high [holding hands about 18 inches apart], and the state could release the SGEIS and throw it all out.”
Becker said he called state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens’s office before the public hearing last month and was told there are no applications on file right now for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Muhs-McCarten disagreed, saying there are five. Becker asked where those permits were issued; she said she didn’t know.
Becker asked why the DEC would lie to him.
“You know how much misdirection there has been [on the natural gas activity topic],” Muhs-McCarten said. “I’ll probably have to [submit a Freedom of Information Law request] it.”
“It’ll be all over and done with by the time you get it,” Becker said.
Becker repeated that the town will not be putting a moratorium in place against drilling.
“Hydrofracking maybe, but not drilling,” Becker said, explaining to those present that hydraulic fracturing is used to improve production of potable drinking wells.
One member of the audience asked if drilling activity is allowed, would drillers be required to apply for a special use permit under the town’s codes and zoning.
Becker said ordinances for mineral resources are currently under revision in connection with other litigation in progress. He said no further discussion or vote on the matter would be undertaken until the entire board is present and able to discuss the matter.
“You haven’t discussed it yet?” Muhs-McCarten asked.
Becker responded that yes, it had been discussed, but no action taken, and if the vocal few were going to be insistent about it, further discussion would take place during special meetings scheduled for Sept. 19 and 26 for the town’s annual budget development process.
“We are insistent,” Muhs-McCarten said. “What if the state lifts the moratorium and permits are issued? You’re all legally responsible to protect the town.”
In other business
* The town has applied to the state Regional Traffic Engineer’s office to request a traffic and speed study for Quarry Road from the town’s southern border in Perryville to Route 5.
* Art Lelio of the Waterbury Road neighborhood area asked the town to continue its work on the proposed noise ordinance dating back to March. He said while problems may have abated in other areas of the town, noise problems in his neighborhood – which include the discharge of shotguns for skeet shooting – continue. He said it makes it impossible to sit outside and enjoy his property weekends and evenings.
Lelio suggested a couple of small changes to the ordinance to expand the disturbance provisions beyond just motor vehicles.
“Shotguns going off for hours on end are far worse than motorcycle and street rods,” Lelio said. “These small changes would help you tune the ordinance to make it more broadly apropos.”
Lelio said he had nothing against hunting, and the current activity is the legal distance from his home, but makes it impossible for him to enjoy his property.
Muhs-McCarten said she supported Lelio’s efforts because noise problems with amplified music continue in her neighborhood. She said the police are called, they come and tell the offenders to quiet down, which they do until police leave.
Deputy Supervisor William Cole expressed concerns about the enforceability provisions of any noise ordinance, but would be supportive if it could be uniformly enforced.
Coverage courtesy PAC 99, Madison County’s public access television station on the Time-Warner Cable network. Martha E. Conway is vice president of M3P Media, LLC, and publisher of the Madison County Courier. She can be reached at 315.813.0124 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/marthaeconway or Facebook at facebook.com/meconway.