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Town of Delaware Board; Home Rule; Conflict of Interests; Public’s Right to Know


Dear Readers,  After three weeks  without my laptop,  I’m  b-a-a-ck.  As always, I’ve provided Town of Delaware meeting notes according to  how the meeting unfolded.  Although  Town Clerk McBeath’s  notes are generally excellent (as was commented by an audience member this past meeting)  Breathing has the wherewithal to provide more context for a more  (hopefully!) complete understanding of the issues discussed.   If you’re a Reality TV fan,  come on down  to the Delaware Town Hall on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM. The meetings have been packed recently and…lively!   Despite the sometimes contentious nature of  discussions,  it’s  important to note how many fine people are contributing productively to the life of our Town.  Take especial note of  the grants being written and improvements being planned.

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

According to a spokesperson for Mr. James “Jimmy”  Hughson (Jeff Sanitation and J. Hughson Excavating companies),  New York State’s Department of  Environmental Conservation (NY-DEC) has informed the garbage hauler he must move his collection facility indoors as part of  a required upgrade.   The upgrade of  Mr. Hughson’s proposed  “private transfer station”  (located east of Jeffersonville on the  East Branch of the Callicoon Creek)  is being considered by the Town’s Planning Board as a Special Non-conforming Use under  the Town’s  ZoningLaw.  Mr. Hughson’s spokesperson said the proposal will provide more storage capacity, will not increase the amount of garbage accepted at the site and will  reduce the number of truck trips.    “Mr. Hughson will collect the trash and sort it at his facility.”

When Town Assessor, Linda Schwartz,  commented to Mr. Hughson that she didn’t understand why he  would undertake the project because it sounded as if   his costs would increase  due to the upgrade while his profits would decrease due to his hauled-tonnage remaining  the same,   Mr. Hughson shrugged.

Town Clerk, Tess McBeath,  who sits on the County’s  Solid Waste Task Force,  explained that the County has proposed simplifying management of the solid waste stream by instituting  “single stream recycling.”  (Instead of  individual  households separating plastics, glass, metals, etc.,  as is done currently,   a  “sorting” company would do the separating and also transport the recyclables out of state.)  “The County isn’t looking to put haulers  out of business,”  Ms. McBeath continued.  “…it’s  asked for  $6.5 million  to build a transfer station….”

In 2009, according to the Times Herald Record,  Mr. Hughson was charged by the DEC for illegal dumping at the site.  In 1988,  the DEC ordered Mr. Hughson to cap and close  a landfill (near the current site)  which was owned and operated by him.*

The Town Board unanimously agreed to write a letter of recommendation in favor of Mr. Hughson’s  proposal.

Local businessman, Robert DeCristofaro, reported  what he believes are several discrepancies in his sewer assessment and the Board agreed to review the Town’s  billing.

While making her Town Clerk’s report,  Ms. McBeath  said,  “Many older, disabled folks come into my office.  I’ve asked several times that the Town Highway Department install handicapped parking signs that it already has so  those folks don’t have to walk so far.”   She then asked the Town Board to help her get the additional signs erected.

Highway Superintendent William Eschenberg interrupted Ms. McBeath.  “You stop.  You just stop right now.  I don’t work for you. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s a sign out there.  If  they can’t read one sign they won’t be able to read three.”

To which Ms. McBeath responded,  “You forget who pays your salary.  This isn’t about me; this isn’t personal,”  and asked several times to be permitted to continue with her report.

While the back-and-forth between the two Town officials continued for several minutes — and the Board sat mum —   audience members called for Mr. Eschenberg to allow the Clerk’s report to resume.  When a local resident said,  “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” and told Mr. Eschenberg he was “being rude,”  the Highway Superintendent replied,  “I know you don’t understand” and asked the audience member to go outside with him so the matter could be explained.

Finally,  Ms. McBeath said to Supervisor Scheutzow,  “I need direction, Jim,”  and  Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “I’ll deal with it.”

Ms. McBeath also reported that the Town collected $2,580 in building fees during the month of May 2010.  (According to data obtained by Breathing with a  Freedom of Information Request,  eight fewer permits have been issued to-date this year than during the same period in 2009.    However,  as of 6/18/10,  fees  have totaled, apparently,  $13,519  an approximate $6,000 increase over the first six months of 2009.)

Mr. Eschenberg asked for, and received,  permission to  put the Town’s heating oil purchase out to bid.

The Building Inspector,  Mr. Howard Fuchs,  was not in attendance and so no report was made.

Tax Assessor, Linda Schwartz, reported  the Town’s  equalization and assessment rates  have increased to 57%.  (That means   Town property holders  will be paying taxes on  57%  of their  property’s value — a larger percent than last year.)

As reported by  the Town’s  Grants Coordinator, Ms. Kara McElroy,  The Town has received six proposals for  its  sewer project and must decide by  June 30, 2010 who will receive the bid.  In addition,  the Town of Delaware and three other River Towns are applying for a share in  a Scenic Byway Grant which will total $25,000.

Mr. Michael Chojnicki  reported that the hamlets of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville have applied for a $750,000  Community Development Block Grant.  Each Hamlet  would receive $250,000 and Callicoon  would use the funds for lights,  parking lot re-pavement (in the Klimchok lot),  shoring up the retaining wall near the same location, improved parking in front of the movie theater,  sidewalks and nicer connections between Upper and Lower Main Streets.

The Town Board awarded a municipal trash removal contract to Thompson Sanitation but when audience member Jim Hughson pointed out that  Thompson’s bid was significantly higher than Sullivan First’s,  the Board unanimously  rescinded  its decision.  New bids will be accepted and subsequently opened on  July 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM.

PUBLIC COMMENT


Mr. Roy Tedoff  read an excerpt of NYS Assembly Bill  A10633 which states, in part,

“Currently, local government officials are confused  about whether  their  local  zoning  ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries.  NY Court of Appeals  case  law  interprets  provisions  of  the  ECL  [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude  that  a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303  of the  environmental  conservation  law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution. This legislation clarifies that current  local  zoning  law,  and  local zoning  laws  enacted  in  the  future, will dictate where oil, gas, and solution mining is a permissible use, even with a regulatory program  at the state level.”

Mr. Tedoff  then said,  “Since the Town Board can use its zoning power,  you should.  It’s a no-brainer….We  voters  have a right to know where the Town stands on the drilling issue.”

Mr. Tedoff then asked  members of the Town Board to reveal  any interest in drilling either they,  their associates or family members have.

Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “Whose business is it to know?  Next, you’ll want to know what my bank  statement is.”

(According to Section 808 and Section 811 of New York State’s General Municipal Law,  Mr. Scheutzow, council members  and other public officials in the Town of Delaware are subject to annual financial disclosure requirements.)  Also according to Section 808,  the Town can appoint a Board of Ethics to review possible ethics violations and  to be the repository of  Town officials’  financial disclosures.  Section 808,  also allows that  if such a Town Board of Ethics is not established,  the County Ethics Board can be appealed to for an opinion.  (Breathing has found no evidence that  the Town of Delaware  established a Board of Ethics but has asked for clarification with  a Freedom of Information request.)

Breathing has  already provided some information on  the issue of conflicts of interest and public officialsSection 809 of the General Municipal Law also requires disclosures by public officials and Section 812 details the information officials are required to disclose  (Financial Disclosure Form NYS GML).  In fact,  according to the Town of Delaware’s own  Code of Ethics,

The rules of ethical conduct of this Resolution as adopted, shall not conflict with, but shall be in addition to any prohibition of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or any other general or special law relating to ethical conduct and interest in contracts of municipal officers and employees.

(e) Disclosure of interest in legislation. To the extent that he/she knows thereof, a member of the Town Board and any officer or employee of the Town of Delaware, whether paid or unpaid, who participates in the discussion or gives official opinion to the Town Board on any legislation before the town Board, shall publicly disclose on the official record the nature and extent of any direct or indirect financial or other private interest he/she has in such legislation.

(f) Investments in conflict with official duties. He/she shall not invest or hold any investment directly or indirectly in any financial, business, commercial or other private transaction, which creates a conflict with his official duties.

Section 5. Distribution of Code of Ethics. The Supervisor of the Town of Delaware shall cause a copy of this Code of Ethics to be distributed to every officer and employee of the Town within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Resolution. Each officer and employee elected or appointed thereafter shall be furnished a copy before entering upon the duties of his/her office or employment.

Section 6. Penalties. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.

(The Franklin County District Attorney has said about an ethics investigation in his  countyOur investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200….”)
In  response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town Board  adopt a resolution in support of  The Home Rule Bill ( NYS Assembly Bill  A10633),  Mr. Roeder said,  “Why would we support legislation that’s  a plan to burden the towns to do things they shouldn’t be involved with?”

As a matter of clarification,  Breathing offered,     “A10633 is  the so-called, ‘Home Rule”  bill.’   It’s an effort by our  Assemblymember, Aileen Gunther — and other co-sponsors –  to clarify what the Town’s zoning jurisdiction is and  to restore local control over  zoning districts to local governments.  You have the right to zone heavy industry out of  a ‘rural residential district.’  I’d think you’d want local control back.”

Mr. Scheutzow said,  “That’s your opinion.”

Breathing Is Political:  “Perhaps  you could ask your Town Attorney to  contact Assemblymember Gunther  who’s a co-sponsor of the Bill.  Perhaps she or a legal person in her office could  clarify the purpose of the Bill.”

Mr. Scheutzow:   “No matter how many times this Board tries to explain that we only have control over the roads,  some people just don’t get it.”

Breathing Is Political:   “Then perhaps you could ask the Town Attorney to reach out to the State Assembly because obviously,  members of the Assembly disagree with you about the Town’s zoning prerogatives.”

There was no response from the Town Board to the suggestion.  Nor did any members of the Board respond to Mr. Tedoff’s request that they disclose any interests in drilling.**

IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

In a discussion outside the Town Hall after the meeting had ended,  Craig and Julie Sautner (Dimock residents and plaintiffs in a Federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil) spoke with  Mr. Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association).  In response to  the Sautners’ continued assertions that  the hydraulic fracturing process  left their water  undrinkable and contaminated with methane, Mr. Van Swol stated,  “I’ve been told that methane occurs naturally in the water in Dimock and that’s why your water’s contaminated.”

Mr. Craig Sautner replied,  “That’s not true and we can prove it.  The chemical composition of naturally-occurring methane is very different than what’s released into the water by hydraulic fracturing.  And what we’ve got in our wells is not natural. We’ve got the lab tests to prove it.”

When Mr. Van Swol was asked,  “If  700 gas wells are drilled,  would it be acceptable to you if  five families’ water wells were contaminated,”  Mr. Van Swol replied, “Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

“And if your well was contaminated?”  he was asked in a follow-up,  “what would you do?”

“I’d take the company to court,”  he answered.

The Sautners explained to Breathing that at the time of   Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s visit to Dimock,  Cabot Oil was supplying the family with water in “buffalo tanks.”    After his visit and because it appeared to him that the “buffalo” water was contaminated,  the Sautners asked Cabot to provide them with clean well water.  For a while,  the company complied but has subsequently refused to continue the practice.  According to Mr. Sautner, if his family wants  Cabot to  replace the water  the company allegedly destroyed,  they’ll have to settle for the questionable  “buffalo”  brew.

ASTERISKS

*DISCLOSURE:  Liz Bucar was a member of   Citizens for a Clean Callicoon Creek which lobbied for closure of  Mr. Hughson’s  Landfill in 1988  because, in part,  the landfill was located in close proximity to the East Branch of the  Creek and  over an aquifer.

**Breathing was  informed recently by a confidential source that  Councilmember,  Harold Roeder — who is also Chair of the Upper Delaware Council — had admitted privately to having signed a gas lease.  In a follow-up phone call from Breathing, Mr. Roeder adamantly denied the allegation,  “That’s an absolute lie!” he said.  “I’ve never spoken with a gas person in my whole life.”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Delaware Town Board Meeting : March 17, 2010


The Town of Delaware and Verizon have reached an agreement for the corporation’s property assessment.  Although the  the agreement reflects a significant reduction in the company’s assessment,  the Town’s Assessors were able to reach an agreement which applies the change to the forthcoming 2010 roll and  therefore, won’t  entail the Town paying a refund to Verizon.

$750,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds  (CDBG) and  $500,000 in Main Street Grant (MSG)  funds are available  in Sullivan County  through  New York State’s Office of Community Renewal (OCR).

According to CDBG Program guidelines, “The CDBG Program provides smaller communities with the opportunity to make local decisions concerning community development without duly increasing the local tax burden of their citizens.”

New York Main Street (NYMS) provides funding “to assist New York State communities with their main street/downtown revitalization efforts” [and] “will provide grants to stimulate reinvestment in mixed-use (commercial/civic and residential) ‘main street’ buildings or districts in order to address issues of code compliance, energy conservation, accessibility, and to provide affordable housing and job opportunities.”  NYMS program guidelines  can be found here.

According to Kara McElroy,  the Town of Delaware’s  Grants Coordinator,  the Town will meet all deadlines for applications and was pleased to report that  Callicoon is also eligible for additional funds through New York’s  “streetscape enhancement” program.

The Town will be looking more closely  at “access grant”  guidelines in order to determine whether or not  it qualifies for funding which would  make high-speed internet access available to more Town residents.

Members of the Town Board will be  attending  The Delaware Valley Job Corps’ open house for public officials on  March 31, 2010.

A resolution will be prepared to enable the Town to establish a $25,000 reserve fund for purchases of  “necessary highway equipment”  which, according to Supervisor James Scheutzow,  “Will help the Town  to avoid interest payments on borrowed money.”

Councilman Harold Roeder, who is also the Town’s  representative to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC),  reported that there’s been quite a flap about the UDC’s recent letter to the Delaware River Basin  Commission (DRBC).  (A link to the letter is  at the UDC site under “Latest News.”)  The letter was written in response to DRBC’s  review of Stone Energy Corporation’s proposed surface water withdrawal from the West Branch of the Lackawaxen River in Pleasant Township, Wayne County, PA.  The proposed  withdrawal site on The Lackawaxen River –  recently named  “Pennsylvania’s River of the Year” by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources  –  is located within the drainage area of Special Protection Waters.

The application for water withdrawal, if  permitted, would allow the  stream to be drawn down to a pass-by flow rate of 5.9 cubic feet per second (cfs).  According to the DRBC,  the site’s  “current  proportional average daily flow…is 23.7 cfs.”  (By way of comparing stream sizes,  the DRBC  is considering  a minimum  pass-by flow rate of 235 cfs at the Cutrone well site on the West Branch of the Delaware River.)

Mr. Roeder prefaced his comments about the UDC letter  with a brief explanation of  the Council’s  role.  “UDC is an advisory board.  We’ve got no policing or enforcement powers.  We’re partnered with the Federal Government to protect the Delaware River.  Our  priorities  are to protect property rights and the  environment in the Upper Delaware River corridor.”

“The DRBC,”  he continued,  “is reviewing  a request by a drilling company to withdraw a maximum of 700,000 gallons a day to service its gas drilling well and that’s what our letter addressed.”

About the letter, he said, “The UDC strayed off the ranch.  We didn’t have any business commenting on the application.  We went outside the bounds of the corridor.”

“I represent the Town at the UDC,” he went on.  “I don’t represent myself.  I’m asking  the Town to be clear so I have some guidance about how you want me to represent you.   Pennsylvania landholders are very  upset with the UDC.  I try to be a  peacemaker.  Bring the sides together.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some people quit the Council.  It’s getting bad.”

In response to Mr. Roeder’s request for guidance, the Board decided to continue its  position of neutrality on the issue of gas drilling.

When Breathing suggested that “neutrality” would be a hard position to maintain with so many issues at play and so many different points of view, the Board agreed.

When asked by an audience member what Mr. Roeder thought the  boundaries of the UDC’s responsibility should be,  Mr. Roeder said, “From ridge line to ridge line.  Certainly not the Lackawaxen.”

When asked why the UDC should have  to be  “reactive instead of proactive…for instance  if there’s contamination of the Lackawaxen and that ends up affecting the corridor…,”  Mr. Roeder reiterated that the UDC’s bounds were the river corridor.

Under “new business,”  Supervisor Scheutzow presented a “Resolution urging the New York State Legislature to compel the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the citizens of the State of New York without infringing on property rights.”

The full text of the Resolution read:

  • WHEREAS, the health and well being of the citizens is of paramount concern; and,
  • WHEREAS, property rights are historically sacrosanct; and,
  • WHEREAS, the Gas Industry will do whatever is required to receive their permits; and,
  • WHEREAS,  the  Governor and State Legislature must take steps to protect its citizens;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Delaware does hereby urge state lawmakers to compel the Department of Environmental Conservation to include in their regulations for the Gas Industry the following:

  • Use a closed-loop system for hydrofracturing
  • Do not permit the flaring of wells
  • No open pits for waste
  • Vapor recovery systems for compressor stations
  • Zero emission dehydrators
  • Pneumatic valves to be used at all times
  • Air and Water Quality standards
  • Well setbacks from homes
  • Green completions
  • Latest technology to be used at all times
  • Pass a Severance Tax
  • Inspections done by locally trained and qualified inspectors

(NB:  Most of these specifications were enumerated by Mayor Tillman during his presentation at the Callicoon Community Center shortly before he received  a standing ovation.)

In response to the Resolution, Mr. Roeder stated, “I won’t vote for that.  Go ahead and have a discussion if you want, but I won’t vote for it.”

The Resolution was tabled without discussion.

A correction was made to the Minutes of the 2-17-10  Board Meeting to reflect  that the Farmland Protection Plan will be incorporated into the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Town of Delaware Town Board meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM.  The next one is scheduled for  April 21, 2010.

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

As a matter of interest,  Sullivan County’s 2020 Toolbox : Water Resource Management Guide —   the purpose of which is  to “maintain water quality and quantity across Sullivan County to meet the needs of the population and the environment,” –  enunciates challenges, an interesting perspective on local control of water resources and a foundational statement for local responsibility:

  • “Challenges  :  One way to balance water usage needs, future growth, and development impacts is through a regional plan. A regional comprehensive analysis of water resources and the demands can examine the potential for communities to maintain resources and provide guidance toward achieving sustainability.  Sullivan County can play an important role in providing that comprehensive analysis.  The ultimate responsibility for maintaining water resources will continue to lie with municipalities.
  • Towns and Villages have the responsibility to control the way growth and development occurs. As development increases into the future, municipal governments will be under increasing pressure to balance that growth with water resource issues. They will also have to confront the need for more information about those issues.
  • A water resource management plan for Sullivan County will need to address five critical areas: Water Quantity and Quality, Drinking Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment, Aesthetics and Recreation,Stormwater and Floodplain Management, and Ecosystem Needs. Cross-cutting all of these categories are significant needs for (1) more data and (2) for more education and training.”

As part of its  intermediate goals for Water Resource Management,  the 2020 Toolbox says the County will, among other things,  provide curriculum guidance to Townships,  “emphasize the connection between non-point source pollution and development…, provide forums and workshops to discuss tools and methods that both protect natural resources and provide for quality development such as Best Management Practices.”  And, “encourage towns to update their  comprehensive  plans and zoning ordinances to encourage the use of such tools.”

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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