Standing Room Only: Delaware Town Board: 4-21-10


Last month, one member of the public attended  the Delaware Town Board meeting.  Last night,  attendance was standing room only.

Highway Superintendent Bill Eschenberg made an appeal to the public for patience  as he cited to reduced funding from both New York State and the federal government.  “Please remember we’re all in this together if you find yourselves driving over potholes this winter.  We’ve got no idea what will happen with our CHIPS funding.”

CHIPS is  the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program and according to page 76 of Governor Patterson’s  Budget Briefing Book for 2010-11, “…the Executive Budget maintains the State’s core Trust Fund investment in the highway and bridge program at 2009-10 levels and also preserves funding for local highway and bridge projects under the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) at prior-year levels.”   Those figures may change depending on action by the NYS Legislature.

Kara McElroy,  the Town’s Grants Coordinator,  reported,  “We met with the Rural Water Association (RWA) about our sewer plant problems and it looks as if there are several funding streams available to us for help.  We’ve had an application  with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  for a long time so  the RWA met with us to suggest engineering directions we might pursue.”

Ms. McElroy also  reported that “the Town’s Community Development Grant application will be submitted this Friday and  our application for  Upper Delaware Council (UDC) funds will be sent tomorrow.”  (For more on these grants and the programs involved, please see  Breathing’s coverage of last month’s Town meeting.)

According to Ms. McElroy,  “We’ve been awarded a Category B Renaissance Grant for which the Town will be the lead agency.”  To help with the project, please email townofdelaware-ny.us

Harold Roeder,  Chair of the UDC and  the Town of Delaware’s  representative to the Council,  also spoke to the  fiscal  theme  struck by  Superintendent Bill Eschenberg by explaining that the UDC has been operating under the auspices of the National Park Service (NPS) since its inception.  “The Council was established  to protect property  rights and to protect water  quality in the Delaware River Corridor.  We get funding  from the NPS but  the amount hasn’t changed for twenty years.  That lack of increase results in less grant monies for our member townships.”

According to the UDC website,  the Council helps ensure the responsible actions of property owners through its  “…commitment to local land use controls and voluntary actions by landowners to protect the resources on their own private property, as opposed to federal ownership of the land in the river corridor.”

Ms. Ginny Boyle reported on The Callicoon Creek Park’s  recent “Work Day” which was coordinated with student volunteers from The Delaware Valley Job Corps.  She also referenced the many summer  events being planned for  The Park which include  music and art festivals,  weekly farmers’ markets  and a  May 22nd Plant Swap.  (The Park Committee’s  website and blog  will be “going live” on  or about May 1st so stay tuned for news on that.  Until then,  see notes at the end of this article for specific events and dates.  Breathing was very pleased to participate in the “Work Day”  with the  kids from Job Corps and had a great morning!)

While thanking the Town for refurbishing the Park’s entryway,  Ms. Boyle asked if funds  could be made available to replace damaged fence railings.  Although Town funds are not available, Councilperson Matt Hofer said Hofer Log and Lumber would donate whatever materials might be needed.

Councilperson John Gain reported on his tour of many of the Town’s  flooding trouble spots with  representatives of the  New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT),  Soil and Water Conservation and Mr. Jim Hughson,  owner of a local excavating company.  Mr. Gain described problems with rubble  under  the SR 52 bridge near Dick’s Auto Sales where the brook is seriously narrowed and several problems with culvert pipes.  “NYSDOT needs to get a digger from West Virginia that’s used to clear   rubble from coal mines but there’s no way of knowing when that will happen.  We’re facing significant erosion issues and it looks like  the pipes will have to be replaced.”

Mr. Hughson’s company, Jeff Sanitation, was awarded  a contract for the Town Clean-up Day.  (Please call  the Town Hall  at 845-887-5250  for details of that program  and another which permits residents and businesses  to dispose of electronic equipment on two separate days.)

Town Clerk, Ms. Tess McBeath  outlined steps that still need to be taken before the Town can incorporate  Farmland Protection into its Comprehensive Plan.

“The Gas Drilling Resolution,” which was tabled without comment last month,  passed this month with the removal of  an item calling for  “Inspections done by locally trained and qualified inspectors.”   According to Supervisor James Scheutzow,  the Board received a petition signed by forty residents  in support of the Resolution.  Council members Cindy Herbert, Harold Roeder and John Gain voted yes  “with reservations”  while Matt Hofer voted no and James Scheutzow voted in favor.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Mr. Matt Murphy of  the Stewart-Murphy Funeral Home asked why  Howard Fuchs, the Town’s Building Inspector,   cited him for  violations of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) when many other Town of Delaware businesses listed by Mr. Murphy  do not provide handicap access as mandated by the law.  The Board promised to look into the matter, discuss it with Mr. Fuchs and get back to Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Roy Tedoff,  a landowner in the Town of Delaware,  described  NYS Assembly Bills 10490 and 10633.  “A10490 asks that a moratorium  be declared in NYS  until 120 days after  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a report on  the impacts of  gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.   A10633 gives Towns the right to use zoning regulations to control where drilling can take place.   This Town Board should contact the Assembly and  state the Board’s approval of the proposals.”   Supervisor Scheutow said he didn’t know about the Bills but would look into them.

Although a resident in the Town of Fremont rather than Delaware, Mr. Noel Van Swol spoke at length several times.  He is  a leading public voice on the issue of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.   He was also a leading opponent of  the  National Park Service’s involvement  in the Delaware River Corridor twenty years ago when  he made the  argument that local people could police themselves and keep The River safe.  Now, he and Mr. Bill Graby of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, are  committed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing as “the only thing that will save us economically.”

In response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town support Assembly Bills  10490 and 10633,  Mr. Van Swol said,  “Those Assembly bills would further delay  drilling in New York State.  Our landowner group represents 9,215.24 leased acres in Delaware Township.  That’s more than 14 square miles.  Our organization has  to oppose the Board supporting the Bills.  Local property owners have been the silent majority while environmentalists have promoted their  hidden agenda to stop the drilling.  We’ve heard tonight of dire [economic] times and the only solution is this vital new drilling industry. New York State Senator  John Bonacic has said that upstate NY is dead.  Only  drilling can give it a heartbeat.  Hydraulic fracturing  has  been around since the 1940s.   As Jack Danchak commented recently,  there have been more than one million  wells fracked in the US and not one  serious instance of  trouble.”

Mr. Danchak  is a local sportsman who writes a regular column on fishing and hunting for the Sullivan County Democrat.  Although  he’s right that “fracking” has been around since the 1940’s, the  new slick water, high pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing  technology proposed for New York and pioneered in Texas in 2002,  has some  scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency worried.

Gas extraction companies had known for years about the immense gas reserves in the Marcellus and Barnett Shales, but  there was no  viable way to remove it.  According to a gas industry publication,  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine,    “…when Devon Energy Corporation acquired Mitchell Energy in 2002, it drilled down vertically to the Barnett Shale, turned the drill bit, and continued drilling horizontally…. The combination of the water fracs and horizontal drilling revolutionized the unconventional shale gas play.”

Reports of  accidents and contamination in Dimock, Pa.,   DISH, Tx., Pavillion, Wy.,  Fort Worth, Tx  and other areas,  contradict assertions  by Mr. Danchak and Mr. Van Swol  that  “not one serious instance of trouble” has been caused by the  technology. (Milanville resident, Josh Fox, has documented some of those occurrences in his award-winning film, “Gasland.”

Mr. Van Swol continued his speech with a reference to New York’s dairy farmers who are still being paid at 1970’s  milk prices  and asked,  “What’s worse?  Some gas wells or farmers  going out of business and subdividing their properties and the environment being polluted by septic systems?”

Many family  farmers in New York  have been forced out of the dairy business due to abysmally poor pricing supports and federal underwriting of  gigantic  “factory farms”; but  people concerned with the impacts of  gas drilling have responded to Mr. Van Swol’s question in public hearings  by stating  that the carcinogens found in hydraulic fracturing fluids are not found in septic systems.

Mr. Bill Graby said, “We property owners have been working with the gas companies for almost two years. We’ve developed lease agreements that protect everyone.”

Mr. Tedoff replied, “Please make those contracts public.  We’ve been hearing about all the protections you’ve gotten,  but  all we  have is your word for it.   Until you stop keeping your leases secret, it looks like you  want to get all the gas out,  make the money and leave the rest of us so we can’t drink the  water.  Lease protections wouldn’t be so important if the gas drilling companies were regulated under The Clean Water Act.

A new resident and professional baker,  Ms. Elizabeth Finnegan said, “I also want to encourage the Town to support the moratorium Bill.   Let the EPA do its job.  If our water, soil and animals aren’t safe,  it won’t matter what kind of money’s available for grants.”

Steve Lundgren, another Town of Delaware resident  said, “Drilling is not the only solution to our economic problems and two years is not too long to study it.  Not everyone will benefit from drilling.   I understand  the farmers’ plight but only a small number of  leaseholders  will benefit.”

“The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is  responsible for protecting us,”  said Mr. Van Swol.  “If you don’t trust the State…they haven’t found problems in New York.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued reports on DEC’s inspection and enforcement record which contest Mr. Van Swol’s assertion and recently, Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC)  Commissioner Grannis admitted at a conference that his agency,  which oversees gas extraction, is understaffed.

(In a comment at Breathing, Jennifer Canfield, a long-time local realtor addressed one piece of the prosperity issue at Breathing by providing a list of banks  “who will not fund leased properties, based upon environmental risk, as per information gained from a mortgage broker who is still looking further into the situation:

First Place Bank
Provident Funding
GMAC
Wells Fargo (will know for sure in a few days)
FNCB
Fidelity
FHA
First Liberty
Bank of America

“A few local lenders who underwrite their own are still lending, ”  Ms. Canfield continued.  “We are trying to also get a determination from the sources at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae.”)

Additionally, FHA rules (Federal Housing Adminstration) state,   “No existing home may be located closer than  300 feet from an active or planned drilling site.  If an operating [gas] well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”

Another long-serving realtor, David Knudsen responded at his site, “When a property has a gas lease on it that permits use of the surface for drilling, a third party essentially has the rights to materially change the property. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, those material changes to the surface could affect the value of the property, possibly devaluing the asset that the bank has lent on. Likewise, appraisals become difficult. Any piece of real property comes with a ‘bundle of rights’ that comprise its value. A gas lease essentially severs one of those rights, gas extraction, from the real property, so it becomes difficult to determine the value of the property without that right to transfer with the real property. It makes valuation very complicated. And in this still-tight lending environment, most lenders don’t want to deal with anything complicated or with an unquantifiable risk.”

Mr. Paul Hindes, the Town of Delaware’s  representative to  the Multi-Municipal Gas Drilling Taskforce (MMTF),  explained the MMTF has been focused on creating Road Use Agreements the Taskforce hopes will provide asset protection in the event that gas drilling comes to its eight  member towns.  “We want all eight towns to have identical road use laws that take into consideration not only the weight of industrial trucks on our roads but also the weight of those trucks over a cumulative period of time.”

Bill Eschenberg,  the Town’s  Highway Superintendent,  said he didn’t see any  evidence of harm from gas drilling during his trip to  “Susquehanna”  where Dimock, Pennsylvania is located. “If trucks wreck roads, they won’t keep running over them.  They need to fix them for the benefit of their own equipment.”

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “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… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

In his final comment, Mr. Van Swol said,  “Don’t worry about  money for  DEC inspectors.  The New York State Legislature will give us whatever we need  due  to all the money  coming from drilling and a severance tax.”

Virginia Andkjar,  one of the Town’s  Assesor stated,  “Unfortunately, it looks like the severance tax  will  be just a pittance.”

According to pages 98-99 of  Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book,  the severance tax amounts to 3% on some gas extraction companies,  won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and is predicted to garner only  $1 million in revenues.

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

CALLICOON CREEK PARK SCHEDULE (not including regularly-scheduled  Sunday Farmers’ Markets):

May 22 at 10:00 AM :  Plant Swap.  Email me at  Ljbucar@earthlink.net for details

July 10,  31 and August 21 or 28 (still in flux):  Under the Moon in Callicoon Concert Series.   Janet Burgan, coordinator. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for details!

July 17 : Art Fair.  For more information,  see Robin at  The Callicoon Wine Merchant

8 thoughts on “Standing Room Only: Delaware Town Board: 4-21-10

  1. Victoria Lesser

    I’m writing in response to the landowners who are in such a rush to lease their land for gas drilling, particularly those that have working dairy farms or Christmas tree farms. I’m writing to those landowners that are in the Ag zone. I’m writing to those landowners who keep telling us that they have the right to do what they want with their land, in spite of how it might destroy the rest of our community. I’m writing to those landowners who have been SUBSIDIZED by the rest of us since they have been taxed at a rate that is a fraction of what the rest of us are assessed at. I’m writing to those landowners who had no problem with us paying their way so that they could stay in business, so that they could live their life here in the Catskills. I’m writing to those landowners so that they could keep their land from being developed. I’m writing to all the people are not doing their own homework, the ones who talk about how safe this is and they have not bothered to travel to Dimock Pa. to see first hand what life is like there for those that live in the path that leads up to the wells. They refuse to think of the rest of us because they will seemingly make enough money to be able to leave when it gets bad while the rest of us, the US that have paid their share of property taxes, that paid their share of school taxes. There are farms with 95 acres that pay less property taxes than I do with my single acre. What is it going to take to get those who think only of themselves to wake up to what this can do to all their neighbors and in some cases their families. Is it all about the money? If it is we’re in trouble

  2. callicoonist

    I’ve never read such a thorough review of a town meeting anywhere else. Thanks for your work, as usual.
    Was there any successful effort by anyone there to rebut Van Swol and company’s misinformation? What was the overall feeling of the meeting?

  3. lizbucar Post author

    Although most of the attendees did not speak and I recognized many landowners who oppose drilling, the atmosphere was profoundly civil. I was surprised that some comments went unchallenged although several of the people in attendance have a long history going back to the early days of the NPS and the Sullivan West merger when the Town of Delaware was bitterly divided. I did ask a couple anti-drilling people why they didn’t object to the characterization of the debate as being between “landowners and environmentalists” because the vast majority of the “environmentalists” in the room were “landowners.” Only one person I spoke with really absorbed that the characterization was made. The private emails and phone calls I’ve been getting have been less polite and have wondered why Mr. Van Swol, a Fremont Town resident was permitted to speak at such length and so many times at a Town of Delaware meeting.

    The most important thing, I think, is that the issue is in the public sphere and being discussed civilly. It gives me great hope for the Sullivan County Government-sponsored fora which are being coordinated through the Planning Department for this summer.

  4. lizbucar Post author

    I think it’s high time for those of us who support a Moratorium on drilling in NY to join forces with our local farmers in lobbying New York for a livable and fair milk rate. I also think it’s a crying shame that our Federal government subsidizes gigantic factory/corporate dairies while our local family farmers can’t afford to stay on their land. I want to buy my milk from local farmers, from a local creamery that processes milk produced in Sullivan and Wayne Counties. I want to buy my vegetables from local organic farms. I want to know why out-of-state factory yogurt is cheaper to buy in my local market than Tonjes’ spectacular yogurt that’s made from their own milk. Tim and Mary Tonjes support their community every single day and their farm and “cheese cave” is less than 10 miles from the Callicoon Peck’s. http://www.nyfarmcheese.org/cheesemakers.asp?id=18

    Our area is packed with organic veggie farmers, fiber farmers, fruit farmers and the list goes on and on. They live right around the corner from most of us. How can it be that a bunch of limp broccoli that travels all the way from California costs less than a luscious bunch of truly green broccoli from Willow Wisp Organic Farm right down the road?

    Victoria and so many others are doing their parts to fill their menus with locally-produced foods; but on a political level, how do we ensure our fresh food sources prosper right here in the Basin?

    I want to hear from our farmers what Breathing and its readers can do to ensure that healthy food is produced and sold in abundant, affordable quantities right here in our neighborhood grocery stores.

  5. Take a good look around

    Thank you for the blog Liz and your continued objective reporting.

    The public is getting tired of listening to Mr. Van Swol’s (and others) pleas of being taxed to death on his large land holdings in Western Sullivan County (Town of Fremont)and his(and others) sense of entitlement whether they received their property through inheritance or otherwise.

    For example:

    On one of his family’s tracts which is about ***208 acres*** of land in Long Eddy, New York he pays annual taxes to both Fremont and Sullivan West SD of only:

    $1,156 per year

    due to the generous forest and ag exemptions via the local assessors office.

    Many others who are complaining about being “taxed to death” on farms and woodlands also receive the same generous discounts as opposed to somebody living in say – Jeffersonville, Callicoon, Narrowsburg, etc… on a half acre of land – and being taxed at about $4,000 per year and not being able to derive anything from their land holdings.

    Factual Source:

    http://webapps.co.sullivan.ny.us/IMO/TaxInfo.aspx?SwisCode=483200&PrintKey=032%20%20%200001005002

    The next time you hear about somebody with large acreage in Western Sullivan crying the blues, do a little research and you’ll see that with all the exemptions these guys get – they’re paying about ***$6.00*** in taxes an acre each year combines to their respective towns and school districts.

    Where’s the violin for Noel?

    Take a good look around.

  6. Mel

    I own some large acreage in Western Sullivan and have investigated every angle possible for tax relief. Most people do not qualify for an ag exemption because you must earn 10k per year from crops or farm animals. In order to receive the forest exemption, you must agree to not develop that particular land for 10-20 years. You can lease your land to a farmer who has an ag exemtion and you will also receive some tax relief. Over the years I have advertised extensively for a farmer to do just that, but so far no takers.

    I have harvested timber as part of the struggle; you can do that about every 10-15 years.

    Why do you think people would exaggerate regarding heavy taxes? I can tell you that on 112 acres, I must pay just under 14,000.00 per year. This is not my primary residence, but family property that I am desperately trying to hang on to.

    And each year it increases.

  7. Jack Danchak

    Sullivan County Government owns almost 2,000 acres of land, our county stands to get millions from responsible gas drilling and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time! Remember this county land is owned by us taxpayers, the people of Sullivan County would benefit not just individual landowners! What are we waiting for, “Drill Baby Drill”!

  8. Ben Bumpkin

    6. Why do you think people would exaggerate regarding heavy taxes? I can tell you that on 112 acres, I must pay just under 14,000.00 per year. This is not my primary residence, but family property that I am desperately trying to hang on to.

    Comment by “Mel” — April 25, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

    [and]

    7.Sullivan County Government owns almost 2,000 acres of land, our county stands to get millions from responsible gas drilling and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time! Remember this county land is owned by us taxpayers, the people of Sullivan County would benefit not just individual landowners! What are we waiting for, “Drill Baby Drill”!

    Comment by “Jack Danchak” — April 25, 2010 @ 9:55
    ===================

    A troll?

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Let’s start with the first – forestry tax exemptions on large tracts of forest land:

    At:

    http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5236.html

    In the example on the NYS DEC’s site, the original tax assesment is: $120 per acre – once the reader follows the tax calculations and NYS DEC guidelines, the new assesment becomes: $28 per acre – a reduction of about 75%. Not too shabby.

    Second:

    The Sullivan County legisiature has already voted on NOT drilling on any county owned land.

    Please see the related article:

    http://bit.ly/caZF3s

    Sorry, “Jack”. Your elected officials know better.

    I’m sure drilling and it’s consequences would do wonders for Bethel’s new Comprehensive Plan to say nothing of Chapin Estates, Black Lake, etc. property values and marketability.

    Hope you watch both videos – the API and Cornell’s – listed above.

    Ben Bumpkin

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