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Second hearing on drilling zoning amendment

April 5, 2011

Of the 20 citizens who spoke at the second public hearing on proposed amendments to the township’s zoning ordinance affecting gas drilling, only two spoke in favor of the changes.

None of the representatives of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) who support the amendment spoke. Only a few even attended.

“They didn’t have to attend because they wrote the amendment,” someone yelled out at the meeting.

The amendment changes the ordinance on drilling from a special exception to a conditional use, which would remove the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) from any role in approving or denying drilling and gives the power of approval to the supervisors.

The new amendment would allow gas drilling in the rural residential district—covering over 90 percent of the township— and restrict it in the Delaware River district and the five smaller neighborhood development districts.

The amendment adds definitions concerning what constitutes a well pad and a gas well, and establishes setbacks of 100 feet from property lines and roads and the river district boundaries. Drilling a well in the river district would be forbidden but gas could be extracted from under the river district if it were from a well outside the district that could be reached by horizontal drilling.

One of the main objections to the proposed amendment that was repeated numerous times was that it would make the rural residential district an industrial district.

One of the speakers was Barbara Arrindell of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) who said, “The current zoning does not allow unrestricted and wholesale industrialization of the township. The zoning changes that are being proposed will allow Damascus to become an industrialized area and will endanger water and air. We should keep the existing zoning and not change it. These changes will give the supervisors total discretion in allowing drilling at their will.”

Arrindell and other speakers reminded citizens that all the current supervisors, the members of the planning commission and other township officials have signed leases. “They should not be allowed to judge something that will directly benefit them,” one speaker said.

Go Damascus Supervisors

It is good to see true democracy in action and nowhere can you observe it better than at the township level. In the case of Damascus you have three middle class men chosen from among the resident population to represent the wishes of the resident population. They have done a wonderful job of removing a descriminatory zoning regulation and streamlining it so that the business of the resident population may be done without having to go through the rigamaroll circus of public comment. This effort by the Damascus township supervisors will also save "David and Goliath" legal fees. I for one am tired of hearing this conflict of interest nonsense because these men have leased their property. They are local businessmen entitled to do business in addition to being a supervisor. Since when is capitalism such an attrocity and socialism such a novelty? By this logic anyone with any sizeable acreage that hasn't leased (try to find one) is also in a conflict of interest as someone who is anti drilling. In the end the voters of Damascus and not the DCS will determine in which direction Damascus moves on the whole drilling issue.

Jeffrey Treat and the purpose of the zoning amendment

When Jeffrey Treat, the township's attorney, states: "We're doing this so that we won't get challenged...I don't think we will be challenged by the company with this amendment", he shows how he, and the supervisors, are misrepresenting the vast majority of the township.

As Barbara Arrindell pointed out, the existing regulations protect the rural residential zoning designation properly, by forcing individual review per well, that would include citizen input and feedback, while the proposed amendment streamlines the approval process immensely, and places the review, and authority for approval, squarely in the hands of the supervisors who have leased, and in whose interest it is to drill.

Under the proposed amendment, the approvals will come quickly. Mr. Treat will most likely be correct. There will be no company challenges, as long as the township supervisors play along, and approve all requests. On the other hand, as soon as the township supervisors reject, the company will most likely challenge the decision.

We can all hope that there is no commercially viable gas to be extracted, south of the Lackawanna Syncline. That will solve the drilling issue for Damascus Township.

One further note, NWPOA passed around a map that showed a line drawn parallel to the Syncline, passing across the Damascus/Cochecton bridge on a slight diagonal below Rt.371. The lessor's propaganda was aimed at undermining the claim of the DRBC, that about 36% of the Marcellus underlies the DRB, and that up to 18,000 Marcellus horizontal wells may be drilled. I believe NWPOA wanted to portray the drillable DRB area at about 8% or 11%, not 36%, by saying that the commercially viable drilling areas are only north of the line they drew, and that drilling would not occur in the NYC watershed area.

If this NWPOA position were to be true, then the drill baby drill stance of the Damascus township supervisors is further undermined by the fact that about 40% to 45% of Damascus Township seems to exist below that drawn line.

How small a minority do the three leasing supervisors represent?