April 26, 2012 —
The board of the Town of Bethel became the third in Sullivan County to change their zoning in a way that bans gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The vote at the town meeting on April 26 was five to zero.
Supervisor Dan Sturm recognized that there is a lot of economic hardship in the town and county and that some residents advocated allowing gas drilling because of the possible economic gains but he said, “For me the risk is too great and, when in doubt, we must be prudent and not allow an activity like fracking that can do irreparable harm. To sum it up, the best option now is to do the right thing and the worst option, I think, would be to do nothing.”
It had appeared that at least four of the board members would vote in favor, but it was uncertain if councilmember Richard Crumley would support the measure. He did, he said, because, among other reasons, he did not believe the drilling companies would have adequate oversight from state and federal agencies.
After the vote was taken, the board received a standing ovation from perhaps 65 of the 90 or so people in the audience.
In preparation for another vote, Sturm said, like many other boards in the state, the Bethel Town Board had received threats of litigation in connection with the passage of the ban. He said Deborah Goldberg, a managing attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, offered pro-bono litigation services to the town in the event of any actual court action. The board voted to accept the offer should it be needed.
During public comment, Al Larson, a founder of a Bethel landowner’s group that is in favor of drilling, repeated his opposition to the board’s decision and he said he would not be considering a lawsuit.