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.

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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

Passing Over : Things of Fear; Things of Celebration


Dear Readers:  Though  I  adhere to no recognized or  singular faith,  I do  love  stories.  Give me a well-written epic about  families, communities, struggle  and transformation, and I’ll soak it in rather than eat, sleep or bathe.  And spring — glorious, tricky,  laughing-up-its-sleeve-spring — is rife  with stories.  The  rituals and traditions of our spring  celebrations turn our hearts to hope,  sunshine, birth, awakenings and all the goodness that sheds the worn, tired and fearsome dark. For many of us, more than New Year’s, the Vernal Equinox signals the time when we re-examine our principles,  our desires and the investments of our energy.

Who can see the first  impertinent Crocus and not  raise arms in an expansive, giddy embrace?  Who, in that moment,  doesn’t hope to become a  more generous, celebratory human, reveling in the gifts of   Earth, Water,  Seeds and Life?

It seems to me this year, that  winter’s weight has been  harder to shift; and that this year, shifting it is more important than ever.  I am  more frazzled by  the things  that threaten — less swelled by  the things that green and warm.  I think I’m not alone and so,  because living in dread is enervating,  I offer this antidote in hopes that gloom  will pass over your heads and homes.

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My  email inbox has been filled with reminders that a new season of   art shows,  library programs and pancake breakfasts is upon us.   Classes are sprouting  in the fine arts of herb-growing, veggie-planting and yoga- practicing.  From Pennsylvania  to Poughkeepsie,   grants were written during the winter and their seeds are flowering:  funds have been found for Honesdale’s  Music in the Park Festival and last evening  — despite the threat of snow — Callicoon’s own  Cafe Devine sponsored a cross-river gathering of small businesses.  The Town of Delaware is making plans for its clean-up and new Renaissance projects are gearing up  for sprucing up.  (Despite my own lackluster mood, I  clapped when I heard the Callicoon Creek Park folks are  meeting on March 31 at 5:00 PM to begin planning for the summer.  Hope to see you there!)

How can I grumble like  a curmudgeon when I can fill my summer belly with an astonishing array of  Willow Wisp Organic Farm fresh veggies from June 4th until November 20th?  (I have to shake my doldrums and sign up by  April 16th because,  even though I remain unconvinced about the wholesome value of veggies in my diet,  proprietors Greg Swartz and Tannis Kowalchuk  look very sturdy and I know they eat the stuff even through the winter.  Take a gander at the  family picture at their website.  Health oozes off these people!)

The Catskill Art SocietyThe DVAA (Savor the Arts!),  The Barryville Area Arts Association, The Nutshell Arts Center and all their member artists, filmmakers, potters, fiber artists and photographers are shaking out the winter kinks with a cornucopia of events that breathe life into our better selves.

And farm markets!  I cannot tell you how gladdened I am as the River flows past my window that the Callicoon Creek Park, Liberty’s Darbee Lane,  Jeffersonville’s  “West Village,”  Roscoe’s  field and tens of other locales will soon fill  with the luscious reds, greens, lavenders, purples and russets of  locally-grown food,  crusty breads and  my favorite, gooey confections.

Happily, my phone and inbox are also coming alive with offers of  yard work,  spring cleaning and other  work that will  pay my rent and help me enjoy our fecund River Basin.

Speaking of fecund (such a fertile, ripe word!)… Josh Fox (Gasland) will be interviewed tonight (3/26) at 8:30 pm  on Now on PBS. (If,  like myself, you’ve canceled your TV service,  check Now’s online videos to watch it at your convenience.)

If that isn’t enough to convince the outside world of the creative wealth born and bred in these here mountains and river valley, Opus Jazz  (edited by Zac Stuart-Pontier) is premiering on PBS’ Great Performances.

For those of you who have not heard about these two  Delaware River Basin filmmakers,   they  are OUR sons  who, thanks to  sweat, hard-work, and creative genius,  finally  met  this past January  when Gasland and  Catfish (edited by Zac) showed — to critical acclaim —  at The Sundance Film Festival.

One last quick note about the importance  of  our region’s  performers and artists:  Janet Burgan,  local  songwriter and performer, who has been sharing her voice and words  with us for years at one freebie benefit concert after another,  will be performing at a Cindy Sheehan appearance on April 9, 2010 at 7:00 PM in Endicott, NY.   The event,  “Words and Music for Peace” is sponsored by Tioga Peace & Justice and will be held at The  First United Methodist Church on  McKinley Ave. “Cindy will speak,  Janet  will sing, and Expressive Drumming will perform a song written just for this occasion.”

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I know I’ve missed a ton of events, organizations, farmers and small businesses in this first Spring Humors article.  Unfortunately,  gas drilling is on our doorsteps.  It has already begun its taking;  and like all of us, I’ve had to make hard choices.  I’d much rather be  adding all our creative and life-affirming events to the CottageWorks Calendar, but  instead, am  learning and sharing all I can about what fracking will mean to  our community.  It’s  the dread  that darkens this spring  and in years to come, when my grandchildren ask,   “Where were you, Grandma,  when the Basin  resisted?”  I can only afford to give them one answer,  “Standing beside my community and  sitting at my computer.”

However,  I will  try to write a column like this at least once a month.  Please continue to send announcements about your  not-for-profit organizations and community-vested businesses and I will continue to  spotlight them in a “celebratory article.”

Best hopes of the River Basin on all our heads,

Liz