Cochecton resident Allan Rubin said gas drilling may never come to Cochecton, but, then again, it might. He added, “The town board has taken a neutral position on natural gas; this is not acceptable. There is activity in other towns that would maintain local discretion about whether to allow heavy industrial development.”
The comment, made at a public hearing at the Cochecton Town Hall on June 16, was one of several by residents that criticized the official position of the town board that it should maintain strict neutrality regarding gas drilling. Several speakers referenced the towns of Highland, Lumberland and Tusten and the efforts those town boards are taking to limit gas drilling impacts to town infrastructure and character.
The purpose of the hearing was to hear public comments about proposed updates to Cochecton’s comprehensive plan, subdivision law and zoning law.
Of the 60 or so who turned out for the hearing, the overwhelming majority were concerned that while the zoning update makes no mention of gas drilling, there is also no language that would protect against it. In the comprehensive plan update, there was a single line which said that there is a potential for natural gas drilling in the town, which some residents objected to.
Resident Laurie McFadden, who is also an attorney, was concerned that proposed documents were presented in such a way that it was very difficult to compare the existing laws with the proposed updates, and what language from the existing laws had been deleted.
She noted, for instance, that the following line that was contained in the existing zoning law was eliminated from the proposed new law: “Areas of greater than 25% in average slope… shall not be altered re-graded cleared or built upon to any extent…”
She asked if the board was aware of this and other similar changes that had been made to the zoning law by the consultant Tom Shepstone.
Shepstone was repeatedly brought into the conversation with some residents speculating that he had slipped language into the updates that would make it easier for gas drilling and other development activities to go forward in the town.
Ted Haber, who identified himself as a member of the Cochecton summer community, asked in reference to Shepstone, “Once gas drilling became a big issue, and you knew that your primary consultant in developing the plan, was not only an advocate for the industry, but was a lobbyist for the industry… why wouldn’t the board at that point have sought some other independent consultant to add to Mr. Shepstone’s input?”
Supervisor Gary Maas said that Shepstone was hired for the task before gas drilling became a very big issue in the town, and that the bulk of the work on the plan had been completed more than a year ago.
Not everyone was on the same side of the issue. Resident Bill Boucher said some residents had no choice to gain income other than by leasing their land to pay for the necessities of life. He said, “I’m going to put a damn rig right next to the school, because I’ve got 94 acres up there.”
At the end of the meeting, Maas thanked everyone for their comments and for being civil. He said the board would seriously consider the comments before taking a vote on the matter.