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Texas Mayor: Drilling, Barnett Shale, Property Values and More


Dear Breathing Readers:   “Mel” (Comment #7 under  “Cochecton Zoning and Mortgage Troubles”)  says,  “It would be an education for NY to study an area where drilling has worked to most people’s benefit, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, and panicking. It’s all been done before.”

In response,  Breathing agrees.  “It has all been done before.”  For a different view  of  drilling in the Barnett,  Breathing offers this article by Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas. In large part,  his exposition relies on the inherent economic infrastructure of gas drilling and its industry.   (The Mayor references air quality studies done in DISH.  Those studies have  revealed that not only were the air and water  contaminated by the gas industry, but so were  the people.)  For readers who just want to scan the article, I’ve tried to highlight it by topic.

Because some circumstances in DISH are different than what we may encounter in New York,  here’s a link to an article written by a resident of Dimock, PA where Marcellus drilling and its impacts are a daily fact of  life. It’s  clear  that Mel’s assurance that one “never hears  about [drilling]  affecting home or land prices” in the Barnett Shale  is not accurate.

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Is the juice worth the squeeze?

When taking over as mayor of DISH, the first question that was asked by the local media outlets was to respond to the fact that our property values as a whole had decreased considerably from the past year. This is where small towns and cities get the bulk of their funding, through taxes on these property values. Therefore, if the taxable value goes down, naturally the revenue for the town does as well. Now I must say that I am opposed to unnecessary taxation, and therefore have done everything I can to make the taxes here the lowest in the area, and succeeded. However, the town has doubled in size over the last couple of years, yet the taxable value continued to drop. This baffled me how essentially the total value of the town drops every year, while were experiencing massive growth.

Not only did it baffle me, but it concerned me. As most small towns do, we use the county tax assessor’s office to perform the tax collection service for us, so they were my first call. When they explained the mineral values were the cause of this drop, and that was sixty percent of our tax base, I was again stunned. As you know we are located in the middle of the Barnett Shale, and have had a great deal of exploration in this area. So what would cause the values to continue to drop? This was also during the timeframe when natural gas prices were climbing to all time record highs.

As I investigated the source of the decline in my town it all started to become apparent. The property values not tied to minerals have continued to drop. I believe this is mostly due to the massive natural gas compressors, pipelines and metering stations. They have all but made the surface property here worthless; however, that does not account for the minerals which is over half of our taxable values. I then found that on average, each well drilled loses fifty percent of its production after the first year. That is a huge drop in production in only one year. So that tells me that the only way to maintain the same mineral value is to drill fifty percent more wells every year. So if you have ten wells this year, you would need to drill five more next year just to maintain the same production.

Many of the local cities have went on a sort of spending spree with the new found wealth from the natural gas minerals, and are now finding themselves in a financial crunch. The facts that I taught myself through this simple question from an intuitive reporter has made a world of difference on how I approached this problem here in DISH. We are frugal at best here, making the most of every dollar we get. We have cut the town debt in half, built a massive park, a library, repaved roads and performed substantial upgrades to town facilities and done this while lowering taxes and not dipping into the emergency fund we have in only two years.

To the real point, is what do minerals play into all of this? As previously mentioned we have over half of our tax dollars that come from the minerals, more specifically the revenue we received in 2007 was made up of 56% mineral values, in 2008 that number jumped to 64%. We have not gotten the completed numbers for 2009, but they will likely be similar. The dollar figures for this are 14, 500,000 in 2007 and 22,277,000 in 2008 in property values from mineral.

On the surface the benefit from this industry seems huge. We are a small town and they double our value. But I also compare this to the drug “heroin”, due to seeing the other towns which have gotten addicted to the drug and when the drug goes away, (when they price of natural gas goes down 75% as it has), they find themselves in a financial crisis. Also, most people do not take into account how much it costs to have this activity going on. I can only explain what goes on in DISH, TX, but will attempt to explain the drugs side affects.

First and foremost this exploration destroys roads, which are very expensive to maintain and replace. None of the existing roads were designed to withstand the constant pounding from an 80,000 pound waste-water truck. Nor were they designed to handle the larger equipment that is used to drill and refracture the wells. To build roads to handle this traffic can cost millions of dollars.

If the municipality owns the roads, they can force the companies to sign a road use agreement, which forces them to pitch in and help the roads. Most of the cities in the area have agreements like this in place. If they do not, then they are foolish, and are likely costing their taxpayers a great deal of money by not forcing the companies to pay. However, the drilling companies are going to take whatever measures they can to keep from paying damages to the roads. The City of Argyle found out the hard way when they were sued by XTO over road work. (Breathing has included the Complaint filed by XTO against Argyle for interested readers:  xto sues argyle complaint)

Here in DISH many of the roads are not owned by the town. This is both good and bad; it is good because we don’t have to pay for the major upkeep of these roads. However, if we don’t own the road we don’t have much control either. For example, we have implemented a weight restriction on all of the roads that we do own, but we can not enforce this on roads that we do not own. Unfortunately, the county does not have the capability to force these companies to have road agreements and pay for what they destroy. Therefore, the replacement and repairs come from the general taxation, or bond elections, not directly from the gas companies. So as you might guess it is a juggling match for the counties to keep the roads drivable for the average vehicle.

One example of that is Eakin Cemetery Road, which goes through part of DISH, but is owned by the county. A pipeline was being installed in this area, and the equipment used in this process is massive. Please note that the pipelines must be included in the cost of this exploration, even though they contribute little to the towns or property owners, and take a lot in return. I will discuss how bad they hurt the towns later.

When this line went in the companies used Eakin Cemetery Road to access the route. They completely destroyed this road and virtually made in impassible for the average vehicle. You could literally see the grooves where the truck tires that hauled massive equipment went. The pavement was cracked and torn from this equipment and the pipeline companies did nothing to prevent or repair this. And though the county does work hard to keep the roads in reasonable shape, when something like this happens in takes a while to plan the repair; therefore, the citizens here were forced to drive on the impassible road for quite a while until repairs were made. (Breathing would also suggest interested riders take a drive up to Dimock, PA.  Despite Jack Danchak’s recent assurances in either The Sullivan County Democrat or The River Reporter,  I’ve been to “Dimick”  and seen a very different reality.  Carter Road was scored with grooves 8″ or more deep.)

There is another impact that can be recognized quickly, and that is the affect that the exploration has directly on surface values. I am sure that there are some who believe the propaganda and are fine with having a well or pipeline in their front yard. However, regardless of what you may have heard, they are the exception not rule, especially if you have a small population of mineral owners in your community. The average person will not purchase the property right next to a well site or compressor, providing they are made aware of it. Unfortunately, most of the mineral owners in this area have kept the minerals and moved on to someplace else. However, when they have tried to sell their property with wells and pipelines on them, it has not been successful.

Although you may see a boost in your tax rolls for the short term, you will pay in the long run with the drop in property values. For a small growing community like DISH it especially provides an obstacle for quality growth. There have been four large tracts of property for sale in DISH for several years with no real interest in purchasing the property. If you do manage to get some interest in the property, it will likely be something like a pipeyard or something else that continues to devalue the surrounding property. So getting quality growth in an area that has a large amount of exploration proves to be a large hurdle if not impossible.

The above paragraph dealt with the exploration of the mineral, now we must consider the pipelines, and appurtenances to these pipelines, such as compressors or metering stations. These facilities have dealt us a very harsh blow without giving much in return. This is highlighted by a previous illustration of the pipeyard. The gentleman who unfortunately lives next door to this compressor site sold off a piece of property to a developer who built 18 homes that average around $200,000 each. However, after the compressors were there, he has not been able to give his property away. He was only able to lease some of it to a company that stores pipe. That is the best he can do now, and that in itself is very low quality growth and makes the area even less desirable.

Another illustration that has been used by me before is the gentleman who has had 63 acres for sale now for several years. He purchased the property as an investment, and now has three pipelines and an above ground valve. He can not give this property away. As he reaches retirement age his retirement has been stolen from him. This is no different than Enron or any other scandal, only it has been made legal thievery. There are two other pieces of property that have been for sale for several years, one of which is a large parcel of about 70 acres and the other is about 10 acres.

The above examples are heart wrenching when you look at how much it has cost the property owners, and only one of the above mentioned owners has any substantial mineral interest. Therefore, they others are merely victims of circumstance. However, as this gets to the point of whether this all is really worth it, I believe that if all of these property were sold and developed it would add somewhere around $20,000,000 in property values, which is more than the average in mineral values over the last few years. I also believe this is a very conservative estimation, it could be more.

So would you rather have homes than minerals? Homes in theory will increase in value over the long term while minerals will drop. Although, this has not been case the last couple of years, in the long term this has held true. Also, natural gas is a commodity, and its prices are much more volatile than housing. For example in the last couple of years the lowest price of natural gas is about 25% of the highest; therefore, you have seen a 75% drop in prices in a little over a year.

In DISH we have focused on overcoming the boom and trying to get quality development. We have worked with a number of developers to annex their property into the city. All three of the major annexations we have had since I became mayor, have been solely to protect them from the development of the minerals and total destruction of the surface values that accompany it. This is not saying that we do not allow drilling; we just force the companies to do it responsibly. We have a pad site that is right in the middle of one of these subdivisions and it really does not look that bad. It is lined with an eight foot concrete fence and most of the stuff inside including the tanks is not visible beyond the fence. However, the companies will only do this when they are forced too, they will not volunteer it.

So how about all those mineral owners who have gotten filthy rich? Here in DISH there have been some folks who have made a great deal of money on the minerals. However, most of them had lived here their while life, and had property handed down over the generations, otherwise they only have a small portion of the mineral rights. Therefore, there are only a few that are still alive that have a major portion of the mineral rights, and as previously stated most of them have moved away to someplace that they do not have to deal with the mess that is left behind.

This area was the beginning of the Barnett Shale, if I am not mistaken the first gas producing well in the Barnett Shale, was within 20 miles of DISH. Therefore, the minerals were purchased several years ago, and the leases were quite low in comparison to the massive leases signed last summer. The lease here is somewhere around 16% royalties with anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per acre, not the 25% and $25,000 per acre that have been publicized.

So what does the 16% royalty get you? From what I understand, for someone who owns four acres and has a quarter of the mineral rights, they average less than a $100 a month. Therefore, if you have one acre with 100% of the minerals you would get something similar. Therefore, unless you have a massive amount of land with 100% of the minerals, you are not going to get much money. If you are part of the lease, you must also consider the truck traffic, odor, noise, and you just might be fortunate enough to have a high pressure gas pipeline run through your front yard. All of these things accompany the hundred bucks a month. I do not have any mineral rights, if anyone has another illustration please add it to this posting.

So to the point of, is the juice worth the squeeze? From my perspective as a small town mayor and a property owner, I say no! Not in the manner in which it is being done in Texas. I think that with minor regulation it could both provide the natural resources that we need as well as not totally destroying the surface values and destroying the growth of these areas. For example, there is no process in Texas for the laying or routing of pipelines. The pipeline companies can literally put them anywhere they want without concern for surface owners and other natural resources. Municipalities do have some limited control over the placement of the wells, but not the pipelines.

The items that were discussed were only the things that are easily recognized. I am still learning the affects on air and water quality and to explore the possible health of affects of this exploration. Although I have recently learned that the companies with the compressor site have learned a loophole that allows them to virtually go without regulation in regards to the air emissions they produce. I will share more on this subject as I figure out the specifics. I have the documents; I just have not digested everything yet.

This also does not include the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees it takes to offer the citizens some minor protection from these companies. Nor does it take into account the hundreds of hours of my time spent researching and campaigning for more regulation for no pay. So you must ask yourself; is the juice is worth the squeeze? I can support any statement that was made in this posting; therefore, if you have more specific questions, please let me know and I will clarify it for you. To those of you who have visited DISH, I doubt you have any questions in regards to the impact the Barnett Shale has had on us.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Hodgepodge: Sullivan County Leases, David Jones


IN SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY:    According to an article on the front page of the  March 9, 2010  Sullivan County Democrat, “On March 2, the Sullivan County Clerk’s Office filed four new gas leases in western Sullivan County…  Industry insiders have acknowledged that leasing slowed down while everyone awaits New York State’s finalization of new gas drilling rules.  Those rules are expected to go into effect later this year, and with Sullivan County sitting on what has been identified as a deep and potentially plentiful source of Marcellus Shale natural gas, industry interest has reappeared. “

According to the article, of the four recently-signed leases,  two  are for mineral rights in the Town of Delaware,  one is in  the Town of Cochecton and one is in the Town of Fremont.

This  Thursday  (March 18, 2010)  the Sullivan County Legislature will meet in  full at  2:00 PM in the Government Center at 100 North Street in Monticello, NY.   In accord with  Breathing’s March 5, 2010 article about Sullivan County’s current efforts to update its  Hazards Mitigation Plan,   the  March 18th  meeting is open to the public and would be one venue in which to ask that the Legislature conduct public meetings  where  residents can hear from and ask questions of  Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and our  emergency responders.  The linked article  contains other suggestions that might be made to the Sullivan County Legislature.

The Delaware Town Board is meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday March 17th) at 7:00 PM  in Hortonville.

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On March 11, 2010,  The River Reporter published  a  letter to the editor from James Barth in which he alleged that David Jones, drilling and hydraulic fracturing proponent and  a member of  Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association, “… either alone, or with partners, has purchased,  just since the natural gas boom talk started, the following acreage: In June of 2008, Jones Partners LP purchased 185 acres in Berlin Township for $1,000,000. In August of 2008, David C. Jones purchased 68.99 acres in Damascus Township for $438,500. In May of 2009, Ruth M. and David C. Jones purchased two plots of land in Preston Township that totaled 181.75 acres at a cost of $825,000.  Therefore, in the 12-month period between June of 2008 and June of 2009, Mr. Jones and partners seem to have paid $2,263,500 for 435.75 acres of land. During this period, Mr. Jones has been a vocal proponent of high volume, slick water hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale.”  (Mr. Barth cites to “tax assessment public records.”  By following the link and searching for “Jones” and “Jones Partners,”  you will find the records referenced by Mr. Barth.)

After reading Mr. Barth’s letter,  Breathing phoned  Mr. Jones and  asked  whether or not  he’d made  the 2008-2009 land purchases  and if so,  where he’d gotten  the necessary funding ($2,263,499).

Mr. Jones –  who has been unfailingly civil and generous with his time  in our conversations –  provided answers off-the-record but would not address his real estate purchases  publicly.

He did have opinions concerning news that the Wayne Highlands School District is considering leasing its gas rights to Hess-Newfield.  “It’s a great idea to lease school property.  The wells have to be far enough from  a school in case of an accident — because you never know — a minimum of 500 feet from any structure.  Our  local and school taxes are too high.”

At the  March 9, 2010  Wayne Highlands Board of Education  meeting, members of the public expressed concerns over siting gas wells on school property.  Some referenced a recent talk in Callicoon by Mayor Tillman in which he vehemently opposed drilling in school yards and also explained why children should not be exposed  to  air and water toxins which  might  result  from such drilling.

On the question of whether or not Pennsylvania should levy a severance  tax on gas extraction  (as has been done in all other extraction states  except New York and Pennsylvania)  Mr. Jones was unequivocal, “No.  We already tax royalties paid to lessors.  There are other ways to raise state revenues.  For one thing, we could lease public lands.”

A February 12, 2010  press release from  PA State Representative John Siptroth roundly criticized expanding gas leases on PA’s  State  lands.  In part,  Siptroth’s press release reads, “‘The local recreation industry would suffer great loss, as would hunting and fishing activities….  The few local jobs created by the gas industry are not worth losing hundreds more jobs that depend on Pike County’s pristine environment.’  Siptroth has co-sponsored House Bill 2235, which would put a five-year moratorium on leasing additional state forest land for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.  The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act would give the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sole discretion after the moratorium ends Dec. 31, 2015 to determine if state forests can withstand additional natural gas exploration.”

In his January 28, 2010 letter  to Governor Rendell,  Representative Siptroth writes, “Today more than one-third of the entire State Forest — over 700,000 acres — is either already under lease or acreage on which the mineral rights are not owned by the state.  At least 100 wells are slated to be drilled in the State Forest in the coming year, and it’s expected that we could have as many as 1,500 well pads with 5,000-6,000 wells drilled over the next decade on the State Forest land that was leased in just the last 18 months.”

David Jones also believes  it would be appropriate for the Town of Damascus to  change its zoning regulations to permit gas extraction in its Rural Residential District.  “It will benefit residents.  It’s what  the majority of people want.”

As to the ability of  Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to regulate and oversee gas extraction,  Mr. Jones stated,  “We need more  DEP  inspectors  but I believe that’s being taken care of.  There’s a new field office in Scranton.”

Mr. Jones is referencing announcements made in January and February by Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell and DEP Secretary John  Hanger which stated, in part,   “DEP will hire 68 permitting and inspection staff, including 10 for the new Scranton office, in response to expectations that the industry will apply for 5,200 new Marcellus Shale drilling permits in 2010—nearly three times the number of permits issued during 2009.”

According to DEP’s own records, there are significant discrepancies between the numbers of  wells permitted during 2009 (6,240 vs.  2,543)  and the number drilled since 2005  (19, 165 vs. 18,796).  Also according to DEP’s records,  there were 9,848 well inspections during 2009 which revealed  3,361 violations and  resulted in 678 enforcements.  (Numbers are culled from DEP’s 2009 Year End Report and its  2009  Year End Workload Report.  Other numbers are available at the 2010 Permit and Rig Activity Report.   The reports can be found at:  http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/minres/OILGAS/oilgas.htm

Mr. Jones was willing to be quoted also  about protecting  the Delaware River and its environs from  a proposed power line which would traverse three National Parks.  According to The National Park Service (NPS) : “We would like to inform you of a new planning effort at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and PSE&G, have proposed to upgrade and expand a power transmission line from Susquehanna (Berwick, Pennsylvania)  to Roseland, New Jersey (the S-R Line)…that currently crosses the three Parks….”   (The National Park Service’s Scoping Newsletter on  PPL-PSEG’s  proposed power line upgrade and expansion is  here.)

Although three plans –  Projects A, B and C — have been debated during the past few years,  the National Park Service gave the nod to Plan B in 2009. (All three of the planned routes are mapped here with brief descriptions of the areas proposed for transection.  Another good breakdown is offered by The Times Tribune with links to NPS  maps.)

However, NPS  has re-opened  discussions recently  on the  three possible routes and that  has Mr. Jones concerned.  “Plan A is the worst of the three,”  he said.  “The Park Service will have to buy land,  clear land and  put a tower on an island that floods.  It’s going to cost.  The environmental impacts will be greater than from Plan B.  We’ve got  an endangered cactus species where  Route A would go.  Not many people know that.   There’s a crystal-clear native trout stream. The line will go over one of my campgrounds.  Nobody will want to camp there.  The Delaware Water Gap is the gateway to  the Delaware River recreational area.  It’s  going to look great  with power lines draped across it,” he said sarcastically.  “New Jersey needs power but it doesn’t want the lines.  It’s a waste of energy to run them so far from where the population need is.”

Mr. Jones suggested  that,  “[The power lines] should go where the people are — where more people will be using the power.  But they’ll fight that.”

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*For more on Chesapeake, please read Breathing’s article,  “Chesapeake Energy and Penn State’s Robert Watson :  Who Are Those Guys?

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Gas Drilling : Sullivan County’s Hazards Mitigation Plan


In early January 1987,  emergency sirens in Cochecton, Lake Huntington  and Callicoon shattered  the cold  afternoon.*    The children and I stared fearfully at the Plektron© where it sat on its living room shelf  crackling with meager details.  Like any good fire chief’s wife, I didn’t  pick up the phone to call him.  He’d ring us  the minute he had a chance.

Slowly, painfully,  news reached us.  A train had derailed just behind the Callicoon hospital on route 97.  A chemical had spilled and was filling the air with  caustic vapor.

Snow and mud were making access difficult.  All we knew for certain was that several train  cars had jumped the track and were lying on their sides.

For hours,  the nature and toxicity of the chemical remained unknown but  our husbands, brothers and  sons  were having trouble seeing and  breathing.  The Ladies Auxiliaries prepared coffee and sandwiches that remained undelivered.  We were banned from the site.  Our unanswered questions floated in the air around us,  “Where’s Conrail?  What kind of  poison is it?  What’s happening to our men?”

Barely two miles south of the spill,  as our eyes and throats began to tingle,  we learned that young Doc Salzberg had rolled up his sleeves and was helping to evacuate the hospital.  There were too few ambulances for speed or efficiency.

The baby in my belly kicked as my own fear rose.  At some point,  I remembered to feed his brother and sisters and thanked the fates we weren’t amongst the families being forced from their homes.

That was the night  we learned there were serious holes in our  county-wide disaster response.

Within weeks of the incident, local leaders, representatives of ConRail and our Congressional representatives gathered at the Cochecton Firehouse and began to rectify the situation.  It was an admirable and worthy effort on the part of a small county with minimal resources and to this day,  I couldn’t be more grateful for the care our leaders showed.

Fast forward to 2010 and Sullivan County is asking  residents to help update its All-Hazard Mitigation Plan by completing and returning its Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire by March 31, 2010.  According to Sullivan County’s Division of Planning and Environmental Management,  “[The questionnaire] can be mailed, faxed or emailed to Michael Brother at Barton and Loguidice, the consulting firm that is conducting the plan update.  His contact information is listed on the first page of the questionnaire.”

Although the questionnaire does not address  gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing specifically,  comments concerning  the gas extraction industry and its potential for disastrous accidents can be appended at the last page of the questionnaire.

In December 2009,  the Cornell Law School Water Law Clinic submitted its comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS) issued by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  The report stated, “...[DEC's] current staffing incapacties must be remedied….To demonstrate the critical need for additional field staff, principal tasks specifically identified in the Chapter 7 of the dSGEIS are summarized in the 15-page Memorandum…”

In turn,  the Memorandum states unequivocally,   “…. The scope and extent of these tasks are clearly beyond the capacity of the DEC.” (Cornell comments dsgeis)  (Cornell Law School WLC Memo)

During Mayor Calvin Tillman’s  recent tour of upstate New York and Pennsylvania,   the DISH, Texas official  was asked,  “If a well catches fire in Texas, do local firefighters get called in?”

“No,”  he answered.   “We go to the scene  but  even emergency responders aren’t allowed on a site.  Even if they were,  most  don’t have special training.  If  a relief valve goes off,  our emergency responders  show  up  and  just wait for the guy to turn it off.  We can’t  get access.”

According to  the Environmental Protection Agency’s  (EPA) 2000  report on compliance in the Oil and Gas Extraction Industries, “Oil and gas extraction facilities are inspected much less frequently (46 months between inspections on average) than facilities in most other industries… and the enforcement to inspection ratio (0.05) is among the lowest of the included industries.” (Page 121: Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry)  In a chart on page  120 of the report,  the “enforcement to Inspection Rate” in Region 2  (including New York State)  was  0.17%  while  Region 3′s rate  (including Pennsylvania)  was  .04%.   (More recent data was unavailable at the site.)

So, if  oversight and enforcement of  the gas drilling industry “is beyond  the capacity of the DEC,”  and  the enforcement ratio was already abysmal during Clinton’s “boom times”  in the 1990s,  what disaster mitigation can we expect now in cash-strapped Sullivan County relative to gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing?

Here are a few  clues:

  • if residents see  a possible gas drilling spill or other emergency,  we’re encouraged to call the EPA’s  newly-established TIPLINE  (877-919-4EPA)  or  email the Agency at  eyesondrilling@epa.gov
  • of the 30-plus gas extraction States in  the US,   only  Pennslvania and New York have no severance tax on the industry.  States that have the tax use its revenue for, among other things, community services and infrastructure;
  • under emergency conditions, the FRAC Act (S1215 – 5 sponsors,   HR2766 – 51 sponsors)   would require gas extractors to reveal the  fracturing toxins used at a  particular site.  Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near passage and  consequently,  there is no reason to believe emergency personnel would know the nature of the chemical soup confronting them.

Nonetheless,  as Sullivan County’s Manager, David Fanslau says, “Federal law requires that the municipalities of Sullivan County develop and implement local hazard mitigation plans in order to obtain future FEMA grant monies for hazard mitigation.  These plans must be updated every five years.  Upon final approval from FEMA, Sullivan County and each participating municipality must formally adopt and approve the plan.”

In light of FEMA’s requirements and the potential harm from  drilling activities,  Breathing suggests the following:

  • Encourage  the Sullivan County Legislature  to hold  public meetings where residents can hear  from, and ask questions of, our Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and the County’s emergency responders;
  • Ask your  Town, Village and County representatives if they were present in Narrowsburg on February 19, 2010 when  Mayor Tillman met with local officials to discuss his  and his residents’ experiences with the gas industry in DISH, Texas;
  • Ask your  County Legislator to propose and/or support a Resolution demanding  that New York State maintain a moratorium on gas drilling until  cumulative impact studies have been conducted on the industry and drilling; until Congress completes its investigation of  the industry’s practices;  until residents can be assured of adequate oversight and enforcement of the industry; until  New York State has a severance tax which can be used to train emergency personnel and maintain our infrastructure; and until the FRAC Act has been passed and communities have full-knowledge of the  toxins we’ll confront in an emergency.

Some County Legislators can be be contacted  here and if you’re not sure which District is yours, look on this Legislative District map.

Individual Town websites will have contact information for your Supervisor and Town Board.

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**Sullivan County’s Gas Drilling Task Force Report.   Its  Emergency Mitigation portion is excerpted here:

“Along with impacts to local road infrastructure, emergency management  issues are another concern at the local level. Interviews with Emergency
Management counterparts in other parts of New York State indicate that gas  drilling companies have been very good to allow the emergency services (police,
fire and EMS) to attend training sessions which explain how and where a drilling  operation will be set up to include a site visit and hands on question sessions. In
summary, our investigation has shown that most natural gas production wells are located in the Western part of the state and the Emergency Service agencies in
those counties have reported no fire or health hazardous to be associated in there areas for the past twenty plus years.  A few safeguard measures and protocols must be instituted:

  • We must be provided with a list of operational telephone numbers and  email addresses of management contacts and especially emergency contacts that can be called in the event  of an incident near or at a drill  site.
  • Each well site will need a 911 address and access information (gate and lock locations plus access) to ensure that emergency response units can access the site. As will be discussed in the section to follow, the driveway permit process at the town level can be integrated with 911 addressing provided by the Sullivan County Division of Planning. As will be discussed in the next section, the driveway permit forms will need to be revised to require a site plan showing the drilling site and driveway access, as well as photos of the site before construction, after a well is installed and after any subsequent change (e.g., when a well is capped or abandoned) requiring a change in or addition to the NYS DEC permit).
  • Interface with NY Alert to inform Sullivan County residents of a chemical spill or gas fire.
  • Communicate with the public about the importance of registering on-line with NY-Alert to secure receipt of notifications of emergencies.
  • Transportation of waste water/or fracing fluid should be reviewed with emergency response agencies by each operator of a drill site.
  • Emergency management personnel should have access to, or know, the contents of the fracing fluids, to know how to treat injuries and protect the health of emergency personnel and medical staff.
  • For the purposes of health treatment by EMS units and hospital ER’s, the exact contents of the fluid should be on record so that proper treatment is made available.
  • Municipal emergency management staffs need to interact with DEC Region 3 Office and the Mineral Division of the DEC to understand the use of blow out preventers during drilling operations to understand how to control unexpected flows of gas which could result in fires. Along with the DEC, municipal emergency management staff should witness a blow out preventer test prior to drilling.
  • Local emergency management personnel should understand the gas flaring procedure and the layout of flow lines. As for pipeline transport of product through the existing natural gas line or new lines as built, we already have emergency reporting information and training as to how to response to a natural gas line break. This information is updated yearly by the Columbia Gas Transmission Company with their contractor for safety:Paradigm Liaison Services, Wichita, KS.

***************

*Here’s a  NY Times reference to  what we subsequently learned was  an acetaldehyde spill behind the Callicoon Hospital  in 1987:

DERAILMENT IN UPSTATE NEW YORK CALLICOON, N.Y., Jan. 4 (AP) -Twenty-seven cars of a Conrail freight train derailed in a wooded area near the Delaware River this evening, discharging a hazardous chemical from one car and forcing the evacuation of several homes and a small hospital, state police officials said.

****************

Resources you might find helpful as you fill out the County’s  Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire:

Environmental  Protection Agency’s Emergency Planning and  Community-Right-To-Know Act

Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry

 
12 Comments

Posted by on March 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Tillman, Janyszeski : Dimock and Callicoon


First,  who is   Mayor Calvin Tillman from DISH, Texas and why should any of  us  care that he spent  last week in a whirlwind tour of  New York and Pennsylvania communities?

Three years ago,  Calvin Tillman  was elected  Mayor of DISH,  Texas, which  is located in the heart of the  Barnett Shale about 25 miles north of Fort Worth.

DISH  occupies no more  than 2 square miles,  is home to about 180 residents and its  annual operating budget  is a mere $70,000.  (For reference,  The  Incorporated Village of  Liberty, NY  covers 2.39 square miles,  is home to 3,975  residents and has an annual GENERAL  budget of $3,798,804.00.)

According to  Mayor  Tillman’s  presentation (which Breathing heard in both  Dimock, PA and  Callicoon, NY)   DISH is also home to  “eleven natural gas compressors as well as  an associated treating facility, four natural gas metering stations, around eighteen natural gas wells within its corporate limits,  fifty plus wells just outside  its corporate limits”  and is where  “eleven high pressure natural gas pipelines converge.” (Please find aerial views  here.)

The Mayor  and his  residents became increasingly alarmed by   the noise  generated at the compressor site.  “One compressor creates noise at 85-90 decibels…and DISH has 11.”   (According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association,  “Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially dangerous.”)  Although Tillman was eventually able to  obtain noise abatement  around the compressors,  a foul stench –  apparently emanating from the same site –  continued to  permeate the town  and   “all the trees along the compressor site were dead or dying.”

After  complaining about  the odor for several years,  “The person who finally came to look said  he couldn’t determine the source of the odor.”

Eventually,  five corporate operators performed a joint air study  and  concluded,  “no natural gas leaks were found that would be detectable to the human nose.”

The stench worsened  and as a result,   DISH  spent approximately 15% of its annual budget to commission an independent air study  which  “assessed thirty-one  citizens and former citizens of the town….  The laboratory results confirmed the presence of multiple recognized and suspected human carcinogens in the fugitive air emissions present on several locations tested in the Town of DISH….  61% of  health effects reported [by study participants] are known health effects of the chemicals detected in the DISH air study.   These health affects include: difficulty in breathing, brain disorders, chronic eye irritation, dizziness, frequent nausea, increased fatigue, muscle aches, severe headaches, sinus problems, throat irritation, and allergies.”

In his presentations, Tillman added,  “All the commissioned tests were taken on private property within 100 feet of homes and children.”

According to the Occupational  Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),  “The maximum time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit is 1 part of benzene vapor per million parts of air (1 ppm) for an 8-hour workday and the maximum short-term exposure limit (STEL) is 5 ppm for any 15-minute period.”

WFAA – TV lends credence to  Mayor Tillman’s concerns about air quality,  “So imagine the reaction of scientists looking at an air sample from a Targa Resources compressor station outside Decatur, west of DISH in Denton County. The sample revealed a level of 1,100 parts per billion of benzene.”  (Note:  1,100  ppb  =  1.1 ppm)

As  the Mayor pointed out,   recommended levels are based on a healthy 35 year old man’s exposure  over an eight hour period, five days a week.  Exposures are not based on the effects of exposure on pregnant women or children.   “Why  aren’t they based on pregnant women and children?” he asked rhetorically.  “Because they shouldn’t be exposed at all,”  he said.

(DISH  residents  are exposed  24/7.   Readers interested in learning more about the  DISH air study are encouraged to visit the Mayor’s site where the results have been published  and he  answers those  who have attempted, unsuccessfully, to debunk its results.  During his presentation, Mayor Tillman affirmed  that since the results of   the DISH air quality tests have been published,  “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) validated  the DISH air study in an internal memo.  They’re going to install a permanent  air monitoring unit in DISH.  If they’d  debunked our study,  they wouldn’t  have spent the money for that.”   The  TCEQ monitor will record air quality in DISH in real time and anyone  will be able to follow the results on the internet.  If you’re interested in hearing from DISH residents who have suffered debilitating health effects,    Split Estate,  presents  their stories. )

Although  concerns in DISH, Texas  are somewhat different from those raised  by drilling in  Dimock, PA or  the   Marcellus Shale in New York and the Delaware River Basin,  local residents   believed  those of us living in the Delaware River Basin would benefit from hearing about the “DISH experience.”   Mayor Tillman agreed  and  accepted invitations  to meet with some of our local communities.

Unlike most elected officials,  Tillman receives no compensation for his mayoral duties and he  refuses any compensation, reimbursement or sponsorship for his informational tours.

On Friday February 19, Mayor Tillman met in a closed-door session  in Narrowsburg, NY  with local policy makers and elected officials.  Neither the press nor the public attended and  beyond rumors that 20 or so attendees conferenced with the Mayor,  we have no information as to who attended or the scope of their conversations.

During  the afternoon of the 19th,  Tillman, accompanied by members of the press and private citizens, helped delivered 17 cases of fresh water to  Dimock, PA resident,  Pat Farnelli  for use by her and other familes  whose water has  been rendered useless by a toxic soup of  contaminants such as methane, dissolved solids, heavy metals, minerals, barium and strontium.  Approximately 18  Dimock families –  the number continues to grow — have filed suit against   Cabot Oil and Gas (Fiorentino et al. v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. et al., No. 09-2284, complaint filed M.D. Pa. Nov. 19, 2009)  for the degradation of their water supplies.  Although the drilling company has provided drinking water to some residents,  Farnelli says  her family doesn’t  qualify  for deliveries.  “There are  six or seven  gas wells  within about 700 feet of my house.  The  last time  we checked,  the methane saturation  of our water  was about 12%.  The DEP  [Department of Environmental Protection] said they won’t make Cabot  deliver water to us until our saturation is higher — maybe 30% or so — that’s what I’ve heard.  Between 30-50% is  when  the methane starts rumbling before the wells explode.  Four or more of my neighbors have had their wells explode.  Not just Norma’s.  But the  methane concentration  in our well  isn’t that high,  yet.”

When Breathing asked Ms. Farnelli if she had anything in writing from either  Cabot  or Pennsylvania’s  Department of Environmental Protection  (DEP)  explaining the 30% ceiling,  she said, “No.  It’s just what we’re told.”

In response to a question from Mayor Tillman,  Ms. Farnelli  explained  that when her children “drank water from the family well,  they’d get a terrible stomach ache and throw up.  They’d just double over.    Used to be, they’d drink water at the school, and they’d be fine but  whenever they drank our home  water,  they’d get sick.   And now,  the water at the school’s turned off, too.”   (A drill pad was erected on the Elk Lake School grounds after The Susquehanna River Basin granted  approval in July 2009.   See Docket #37.)

(Later  in the evening,    Breathing was in the Elk Lake School for a discussion of gas drilling sponsored by  The League of Women Voters.   The school’s water fountains were turned off.  Students  and staff are confined to drinking from bottled water dispensers  although water continued to flow to  lavatory sinks and toilets.    According to several attendees, students and parents were informed by  the Elk Lake School District that  installation of bottled water  was a precaution against the spread of  “the H1N1 virus.”  (Link to article written prior to the start of drilling.)  According to a December 9, 2009 article at  The Independent Weekender,  drinking fountains were shut down after the pump system “malfunctioned”  on October 15, 2009.  The  District Superintendent said the shutdown had nothing to do with drilling or hydraulic fracturing at the school site.   Further,  he stated  the water has been tested, found safe  and repairs would be completed over the Christmas break.  Instead, according to officials,  fountains were turned off  to prevent spread of  the H1N1 virus.)*

During Mayor Tillman’s presentations at both the Elk Lake School auditorium and The Delaware Community Center in Callicoon,  he was adamant that certain areas should be off limits to well drilling pads.  “You do not have to site them on school yards. You make this hazard a risk when you put it  in school yards and in peoples’ front yards.”

Locally,  the Wayne Highlands School District has been approached  by Hess about a potential leasing of school properties for drilling.

When  Farnelli was asked about her own health,  she admitted she’s undergone testing for lupus.   “The doctor ordered some blood tests for  metals,  but I haven’t had them done.  We don’t have health insurance.  Even though I’m on disability and my husband’s  cook job  barely pays the bills,  we don’t qualify for assistance and we sure can’t afford health care.”

“I feel like we were naive for signing the leases,” Farnelli continued.   “We sure aren’t prospering.  I wish we’d never signed.  The landman told us they probably  wouldn’t drill; that there’d  be little or no lasting damage or impact;  that there’d  be a commotion for two or three weeks, and then there’d be a little thing like a fireplug on a square of concrete in the hayfield left.  He said it was almost like winning the lottery and that’s how they were still talking Thrusday night at Elk Lake at the royalty owners’ meeting…about winning the gas well lottery.  They said the sign-on  bonus was the most anyone would pay  –  $25 per acre  –  and that it was like free money.  They made it sound  patriotic and  clean and green –  like getting America off of foreign oil dependency.   When   Norma’s  [Fiorentino] well blew up on New Year’s Day…we’ve been kicking ourselves.   The  Carter’s  well vent exploded  6 or 7 times.  Now,  I worry about my kids.”

“We were told everyone would get a  methane tester  for our basements but Cabot said the equipment wasn’t  necessary.  The  DEP showed up here with a Cabot representative and they were pretty jovial when they didn’t  find  methane in the basement.  Then they said they’d  found some  at our  well head and that they needed me to vent  it  because they’d found it in the water.   My husband wasn’t home and I didn’t know what I had to do.  They  didn’t explain anything and they said they couldn’t do it for me.  I asked for help a couple of times but they said I needed a big wrench.  Two days went by and  all they’d say was my house could  blow up.”

At this point in the story,  Mayor Tillman asked Ms. Farnelli for  the name of her DEP contact and said he planned to contact  him.

Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon (below)  about the state of our  local roads.

On February 20th,  the Mayor was back in Sullivan County at the Delaware Community Center in Callicoon, NY where he was joined by Nancy Janyszeski,  Chair of the  Board of Supervisors of Nockamixon Township and Pennsylvania Chair of the Lower Wild and Scenic Delaware River.  They were  greeted by a standing-room only crowd that was a  mix of drilling advocates,  lessors and opponents of gas drilling.

After  explaining the results of air quality tests conducted by DISH (see above)  Tillman addressed  issues of hydraulic fracturing and  recommended several precautionary measures.   “I saw in Dimock that drill pads  are situated next to homes.   In Texas, local authorities are allowed to permit a well  which I was shocked to hear local ordinances can’t do here.   It needs to come back to the local level. In theory,  Chespaeake could buy and tear down this building and put in a well and there’s nothing your local governments  could do about that. They might buy a city block like in Fort Worth  and put a pad site. What’s good for Albany might not be good for here. Urge your local officials to get the local control back to the local level.”

Supervisor Janyszeski  echoed the Mayor’s concern about local control.  Nockamixon has used zoning  to  hold the drills at bay until  protections of its water and land are in place.  “We’ve  always  understood the benefits of drilling, but we need to make sure it’s safe.  We’re in  Special Protection Waters.  We have a Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.  The proposed drilling site in Nockamixon is on an Exceptional Value Stream.

“Hundreds  of leases were signed  before we even knew they were in town,”  Janyszeski said.  “The gas people say  they don’t need local permits.

“The  drilling will be for a short-term  and our communities will be left with the clean up   but the gas companies  come in and  say, ‘We  don’t need a permit  from local governments.  If you or I want to put an addition on our house, we need a permit.  Why don’t then need one?”

At which point, most of the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

Janyszeski then discussed an  amicus brief filed by,  among others,   Nockamixon Township, The Delaware Riverkeeper and Damascus Citizens in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania concerning the ability of local governments to control  gas drilling within their borders.

According to the  Court’s ruling,  “Municipalities have a unique authority and responsibility in the regulatory framework which must be maintained; they ‘give consideration to the character of the municipality, the needs of the citizens and the suitabilities and special nature of particular parts of the municipality.’”   In the end,  the court’s  decision permits a local regulatory body to enact “traditonal zoning regulations that identify which uses are permitted in different areas of the locality,  even if such regulations preclude oil and gas drilling in certain zones….”    However,  the decision also restricted the scope of  local jurisdiction,  “We do not, for instance, suggest that the municipality could permit drilling in a particular district but then make that permission subject to conditions addressed to features of well operations regulated by the [Pennsylvania Oil and Gas] Act.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)  Essentially, when it comes to actual drilling practices and operations,  the  Court  upheld that Pennsylvania State law will carry more force than local regulations.

In response to the ruling,  Nockamixon Township has  amended old zoning ordinances in order to restrict  gas and drilling operations  to “light industrial and quarry zones.”   Also,  the Town has strictly enforced  weight limits on all its bridges.

“It means  companies  have  more hurdles to jump,”  said Janyszeski.

Tillman  reiterated  the importance of local involvement,  “Your local authorities  have to insist  drilling companies use  green completions.  Flaring isn’t necessary.  They don’t have to store  the drilling waste in pits. Make sure  there’s a system for vapor recovery on condensate tanks and other emission sources.  They can use  zero emission dehydrators and pneumatic valves.  The companies say it costs too much but green completions actually save product which makes the companies more money.”

In amplification  of Tillman’s  statement that,  “Companies will tell you the fracking fluid’s safe.  It  contains over 250 chemicals and over 90% of them have negative health effects,”  Ms. Janyszeski  suggested other localities conduct baseline water testing as was done in Nockamixon Township.  “We used  Wild and Scenic  River funding to perform our first round of testing.  Now  we know how our water is.  We tested streams near proposed sites  and ten wells and  discovered we have TCE in a couple wells.  As a  result of the successful testing, we got another $25,000  from The Wild and Scenic River funds for a second round.  I’d add, since hearing what  Mayor Tillman’s done with air testing in DISH,  that’s also something our local governments should be looking at.”

(Linda Babicz,  moderator of the program,  interjected that  our local  Multi-Municipal Taskforce is  working to ensure,  through permits,  that drilling companies will be responsible  for testing before any gas  wells are drilled or worked on.  In addition,  she offered,  “We don’t have Home Rule  in New York State.  That’s why our local governments  don’t have the right to demand permits.”**

As to assertions made by drilling proponents that  gas drilling will be  an economic boon for local municipalities,  Mayor Tillman addressed the issue of  declining tax revenues in DISH.  “During my tenure as Mayor,  I’ve doubled the size of the town to 2 square miles.  The [underground] minerals  are  just an extension of the  property for taxation purposes.  The average well loses about 50% of  its mineral value after the first year of production. The only way to maintain the value,  is  to drill more and more….   and the cost of natural gas goes down……  a lot of cities in Texas and in the Barnett shale  are in trouble. They’re having to raise taxes and lay off people. I liken this to heoin. It’s like an addictive drug  and a lot of  [Texas] cities got addicted to it.”

“There are other  ways to think about it,”  the Mayor continued.  “We used to get 60%  of our tax revenues from minerals.  We’ve probably spent that much to clean up. If you don’t  have minerals on your property  and you don’t  get ‘mailbox money,’   it probably isn’t worth  it.  And even those who get the mailbox money,  they’ll probably say it isn’t worth it.  The former mayor [of Dish]  sold mineral rights.  He’s  one of my supporters now.   [The companies]  have  kicked in money for parks, but if you weigh the costs and benefits,  I just don’t think there’s been  an overall benefit.”

When he was asked about the kinds of jobs  the gas industry’s created in Texas, Tillman  said,  “Most drilling rig crews are transient.  They’ll come  for two weeks and then they’ll go somewhere else.  They live on the  pad site — seven days on and seven days off.”

When asked about  the health impacts of drilling on drilling  workers,  Tillman responded,  “There’s probably  stuff that doesn’t get reported.  There have been  some accidents where  workers got asphyxiated and died. There’ve been  explosions on sites and people have  died.  There are signs,  ‘No Open Flames’  near wells because of  the methane.  I called OSHA   for the workers but they’re  only considered temporary employees so they don’t go through OSHA.”

One  audience member asked  Mayor Tillman  to address the impact  of  hydraulic fracturing on organic farms.  “The only other air study done besides ours [outside of litigation]  was at an organic goat farm in Fort Worth.  The company was flaring a well. [The study] detected the same toxins  as ours did.  She  has to constantly test her pastures.  I assume you’d have to do that at your own expense until you win a long court battle.”

(According to  The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA) and an article in The Post Standard,  “The number of organic farms in New York has tripled since 2006″  while the market for organic goods has  expanded 20%  over the last ten years.  According to The United States Department of Agriculture’s  2008  Survey of Organic Growth,  “Nationally,  New York ranks fourth in the number of organic farms behind California, Wisconsin, and Washington.  Total area devoted to organic production in New York totaled 168,428 acres. Value of sales of organically produced commodities in the state totaled $105.1 million, ranking seventh nationally and accounting for 3.3 percent of total U.S. organic sales.”)

At the end of his prepared remarks,  Mayor Tillman recommended several actions that should be taken by  local and state governments:

Develop ordinances related to oil and gas exploration prior to permitting any wells.
Local Ordinances should require road use agreements
Local ordinances should require green completions
Understand that there are places that should be off limits for drilling.
Wells should not be located in school playgrounds, and pipeline should not be run through front yards

Impose a severance tax

Require the latest emission lowering technology, including vapor recovery, and zero emissions dehydration, and pneumatic valves

Work together in groups when signing leases
Do not be the mole, working against your neighbors

Of the severance tax enacted by the State of Texas, he said,  “Here’s what I wish your legislators would consider.  We don’t have a state income tax in Texas.  We have the severance tax on the gas companies.  It’s good for a lot of reasons.   The tax is paid by volume on the gas so if you’re leasing,  you’ve got a measurement of how much your wells are producing.  It’ll tell you how much gas is coming out of the ground and how much money you should be getting.”   (In a previous Breathing article, I referenced a court judgment that found   Chesapeake had defrauded royalty owners in Texas out of $134 million in payments by under-reporting the amount of  gas Chesapeake extracted from its lessor’s wells.)

Tillman continued to tout the benefits of enacting a severance tax,  “Do you have enough inspectors in  New York?   A severance tax could pay for that, too.”
Then, looking out over the audience,  he asked,  “How are the roads holding out around here?”  When the audience groaned and laughed, he said,  “A severance tax can fix that.”

But the final recommendation which drew a standing ovation from the crowd was this,   “Do not issue another permit until these things are accomplished!”

******

*The article does not specify what agency tested the water.  I am planning to make contact with the  school in order to obtain more clarity.  If I succeed,  I will certainly report back here.

**Actually,  there is a weak version of  Home Rule in New York State that permits localities to narrowly  regulate within their own borders so  long as the State of New York approves.  When Sullivan County attempted to use it relative to a  Room  Tax  on our hospitality industry, we discovered that  the process is arduous,  complicated and is ruled by “windows of opportunity.”

 
13 Comments

Posted by on February 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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