To the Editor:
(Brookfield, NY- April 2013) I would like to thank all who attended the town hall meeting in Brookfield March 30. It is through these types of events that the people of our town can hear what is happening and can give their opinions on how they feel about an issue.
I must admit that the agenda may have been a bit too ambitious, and I will try to trim things down in the future.
As usual, the most contentious and debated topic was gas drilling. This issue has the tendency to bring out strong arguments and emotions, as we are dealing with critical elements such as economic development, property rights and the environment. All deserve equal consideration, and it poses a considerable challenge to those in public office who may need to make important decisions based on so many factors.
Although there was a lively debate on the issue, and I appreciate that, one thing that drew my concern was the block diagram that was handed out by a local individual who is apparently in favor of drilling in Brookfield. This algorithm gave a play-by-play on how the town will be sued if drilling is not allowed to occur and how the taxpayers will have to “fund the town government’s defense out of the tax levy.”
The tax levy that you and I support. The level of sophistication and legal terminology used in this handout with terms like ‘class-action lawsuit’ and ‘the Newberg Rules on Class Action’ was impressive. It made points about foreign events being a factor, along with the use of words like ‘plaintiff,’ ‘defendant’ and ‘eminent domain.’
Hmm; wonder where that came from?
Needless to say, the town does not have the resources to fight big gas companies and their $400-an-hour lawyers. Brookfielders have never been known to back down from a fight, but this one could get serious.
As I explained at the meeting, for argument’s sake, I do not care if most of the gas, which is a commodity, goes to the highest bidders like China and India. I do not care if natural gas will be considered a “bridge” between fossil fuels and alternative energies of the future. I do not care if it gives jobs to people who do not reside in our town.
What I care about is how it affects the people and the infrastructure of our town. I care if there are thousands of trucks traveling our roads. I care that we need to spend thousands of dollars on developing a law to protect those roads.
And I care that very little monies will be produced that will allow our town to improve infrastructure, lower the tax rate and maintain the quality of life we have here in Brookfield. The question to be asked is how it will benefit all of Brookfield.
On the other hand, it is just as important to make sure that the property rights of those who have farmed our town for generations have a say in how they manage their land, profit from the hard work they have done to keep that land and to make sure they have a seat at the table when decisions are made about their financial futures.
A tough call, indeed.
Recently there has been talk of holding this as an issue in November and presented as a referendum on whether or not drilling should occur in our town. Upon consultation with our town attorney we discovered that New York state law will most likely prohibit this. His suggestion was that the next best option was to have a good old-fashioned ballot box there on Election Day that will allow people to cast their ballot for or against drilling.
Although this is non-binding, it may give the town board insight on how to make a critical decision on drilling in our town. I must admit that I do not feel comfortable in the fact that five individuals will make a decision that may affect so many, but this underscores how important it will be to make your feelings known to your elected representatives and to be as informed as possible to all sides of the issue.
A point that was brought up by Hobie Morris in his letter to the editor was his concern that board members did not attend the town hall meeting. In their defense, they had expressed desire to do so, but stayed away due to their concern that this would have violated Open Meetings Law, as was claimed by one of our local government watchdogs.
Upon my inquiry to Robert Freeman, who is known all over the state for his expertise on the subject of open meetings and good government, he said he found no issue with how it was done, as long as they were there as part of the audience, not voting public officials.
I hope that we will be able to hold more town hall meetings in the future, and that we can continue to have a constructive dialogue with many of the people in our town when it comes to such important matters as gas drilling and equipment purchases.
We need these less-formal gatherings to allow for the time to air concerns and maintain a good level of communication amongst the citizens of our town.
John Salka, Brookfield Town Supervisor