The Town of Highland Town Board voted unanimously in favor of adopting Local Law 3 at its monthly meeting on July 10, which effectively bans gas drilling and other heavy industrial activity in the town. With that move, the Town of Highland became the fourth Sullivan County town to adopt similar zoning, creating an expanding block of bordering towns including Tusten, Lumberland and Bethel.
Adoption of the law is the culmination of a long process that included public information sessions, public hearings, town meetings and workshops. Describing the process as “both troubling and enriching,” town supervisor, Andrew Boyar said that he is deeply saddened and wounded by the loss of a few friends over the complicated issue, but noted it was the board’s responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of all town residents.
Concerns were raised at earlier sessions by some members of the community associated with hunting clubs. Boyar spoke to that as well. “We owe the next generations the gift of beautiful unspoiled places to hunt and fish,” he said. “Fighting to make sure that this legacy is not spoiled is what being a sportsman is all about. We can’t ask the deer or the trout, the grouse or the bass what they would want, for they are voiceless. We have to speak for them. I would rather bequeath the joy of the outdoors to future generations than all the royalties imaginable.”
Councilman James Gutekunst noted that the board took a trip to Bradford County, PA to see how gas drilling impacts a community. “What I saw in Bradford County would change the whole character of this town forever,” he said. “It would be a betrayal to the town’s citizens and to my ancestors. I hope that people on both sides can get on with their lives and enjoy all the activities that this beautiful town gives us.”
Councilwoman Amanda Scully’s remarks were brief, but pointed. “To those of you who think we are taking away your right to make money and take minerals, I’d like to know why your right is more important than all the people of the Town of Highland’s right to have safe water, safe air and land that they can pass down to their children.”
More than 650 comments were received during the process, most of which favored a ban and all of which were reviewed by each council member and the supervisor.
“I strongly believe that a community has the right of self-destiny also known as ‘home rule’ and it is abundantly clear that this community overwhelmingly wants to ban fracking from our borders,” said Boyar. “Most of the people in the Town of Highland want to maintain the beauty and tranquility of our area and do not want to live in an industrial landscape. If Democracy is to have any meaning here, we must heed the will of the people.”