May 15, 2013 —
After promising to appoint a committee to examine the issue of fracking in the proposed town comprehensive plan, the board did an about-face and adopted the plan at the town meeting on May 13.
At the March meeting, supervisor Tom Bose said a panel with five to eight members would be appointed to study whether the language that many believed invited gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing into the town was necessary or should have been removed.
That committee was never formed, and at the April meeting some members of the community suggested that it was the board’s responsibility to decide whether the language about fracking should be altered, deleted or maintained and that responsibility should not be handed off to a committee. Others, however, wanted the committee process to move forward.
In the past, there have been indications that passage of the comprehensive plan with the fracking-friendly language could lead to legal action, which might involve the high-profile environmental attorneys Helen and David Slottje, although it’s not clear if that is now happening.
Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, a group that has been vigorously opposing the adoption of the plan, issued a statement saying, “A comp plan is supposed to represent ‘the vision of the people of the town.’ Hundreds of comments submitted to the town, a postcard survey of voters and taxpayers, and the town’s own community survey, all showed overwhelming opposition to the pro-fracking provisions of the plan. Sullivan County even took the unusual step of advising the town to remove the gas drilling language from the plan because it ‘failed’ to show that it was supported by the community.
“The town assured the county that it would not adopt the plan until a community review panel had examined the plan and reported its findings to the board. At the March and April meetings it actively solicited volunteers for the committee. [On May 13], without any advance notice, the board adopted the plan, as written, without even naming the committee.”
In the past, one reason board members gave for opposing a ban on gas drilling was that such a ban might trigger a lawsuit from pro-drilling forces. But with two appellate court decisions on May 2 upholding lower court rulings that New York towns do have the power to ban drilling if they desire, it seems ever more likely that towns have and will retain that authority.
Supervisor Tom Bose could not be reached in time for publication.