Cuomo Fracks New York State with Irony and Disassociative Policy Disease

(BREAKING NEWS: With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address, it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.” It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary: “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning, mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies. (The State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance, figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje, founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits, the Slottjes wrote, “…we will turn a version of this [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)


 

(BREAKING NEWS:  With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address,  it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.”   It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary:  “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning,  mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies.  (The  State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance,  figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje,  founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.  Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits,  the Slottjes wrote,  “…we will turn a version of this  [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)

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First, whether you are a pro-fracking or pro-Moratorium New Yorker,  when you searched the text of Governor Cuomo’s  State of the State Address for some variation of “frac,”  “fractured,”  “frack,”  or “frackturing,”  you were immediately rewarded with several instances of  “FRAC.”   Armed with a fresh cup of coffee or some sedative,  you prepared to delve into the convoluted shoals that are Cuomo’s  gas extraction policy.

And that’s where you encountered the first multi-layered irony.  During the past month, activists sent New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  more than 200,000 comments about the Agency’s  regs,   draft SGEIS,  its review process and lack of adherence to State law.  Many of those comments were submitted “under protest” and came on the heels of more than 60,000 submitted during the last round of dSGEIS comments.  But the “FRAC” in the Governor’s speech didn’t refer to gas, extraction or hydraulics.  It’s the Food Research and Action Center which studies accessibility to “affordable fresh fruits and vegetables” and the impact of that accessibility on health.  It is a notable initiative but kind of moot if New York’s  fertile foodsheds are fracked.

You settled in a little deeper and began to review the State of the State Address category-by-category.

Under the broad heading of “Economic Development,” Governor Cuomo  touted Tax-Free Hot Spots, Academics and Unemployment Insurance.  He announced, “The Adirondack Challenge, a national rafting and paddling competition…[that] will  focus the world’s attention on the unparalleled natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the Adirondacks to attract tourists to Upstate New York.”

That’s lovely for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks which are protected from fracking by the NYS Constitution, but how will tourists reach those oases if not via a scenic gas drilling byway?   Additionally, as Cuomo  plots to protect some areas of New York State as more worthy of conservation than others, the Adirondack Mountain Club has reminded him, “It is clear from Article XIV, section (3)(1) of the Constitution that the state cannot enter into a lease with any private corporation for the extraction of natural gas from any state forest or reforestation area located in the counties of Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, or Delaware counties.”

Uh oh.

The Governor spoke to the Economy of Tomorrow and laid out a plan to Make New York the Leader in the Clean Tech Economy. He pledged himself to the creation of a workforce capable of meeting the new demands of his 21st century model.

And he drew a special bead on Upstate Economic Development.  He connected the dots between poverty, food deprivation and a failure to thrive. He outlined a plan to bolster our farms and families by strengthening Farm to School Programs. (This is of especial importance to Sullivan County, NY which a recent Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report placed next to last for health factors of all New York State counties.)

The particular attention Cuomo paid to Upstate Economic Development may have set some heads to shaking. On one hand, he lauded the value of Upstate water and  soil resources – citing to them and our foodsheds as indispensable pieces of NY’s economic engine — while,  on the other,  his  SGEIS proposes to protect the NYC and Syracuse watersheds  and leave the Upper Delaware River Basin (and its organic farmers) to the mercy of inadequate setbacks. (Sec.  7.1.5:  Revised Draft SGEIS 2011,  page 7-55.)

For instance,

… as stated in sub-section 7.1.3, the Department proposes that for at least two years the surface disturbance associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including well pad and associated road construction and operation, be prohibited within 500 feet of primary aquifers.

And,

… uncovered pits or open surface impoundments that could contain flowback water … are subject to a 300-foot separation distance from water wells under Appendix 5-B of the State Sanitary Code.  Flowback water tanks and additive containers … which require a 100-foot setback from water wells.  Handling and mixing of hydraulic fracturing additives onsite…requires a 150-foot distance from water wells.  The Department proposes that it will not issue well permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic-supply spring, unless waived by the landowner.

If those  “set-back mitigations” strike you as inadequate, then add this nugget to the sludge on your plate:  gas wells in New York State will be permitted within 150 feet of schools.

That’s right.  As Cuomo  outlined a broad range of education improvements with optimistic headings like,  more learning time,  full-time pre-k programs for highest needs students, better teachers, principals and evaluation systems — all excellent proposals —  his SGEIS will allow gas wells to be drilled within 150 feet of those excellent teachers, students, playgrounds, programs and classrooms.

No doubt,  Disassociative Policy Disorder strikes again.

Fighting Hunger in New York

Governor Cuomo has good reasons for envisioning a future-New York where our families are well-nourished by the bounty of our own organic farms. (New York farmers regularly lead the nation in produce donated to food banks and food pantries.  Just sayin’.)

In 2006,  NYS was home to “580 certified organic farms  with 68,864 acres in production.  In addition, there were more than 100 organic processors doing business in the State…”

Only two years later, the US Department of Agriculture reported that  NYS had grown to  827 organic farms and was ranked fourth in the nation as a result.   More,   NYS was second in the country with  319  organic dairy farms;  second to Wisconsin with 99 organic beef farms  and fifth for organic vegetable and melon farms with 190.  (Our $60.2 million dollars in organic milk sales for 2008 placed us fifth in the nation.)

The Governor even cited to  Bay Shore’s Farm to School Project, “Edible EastEnd, an innovative collaboration between Long Island’s Bay Shore Union Free School District, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Office of General Services, and Long Island potato farmers to increase service of Long Island potatoes in Long Island Schools)…”

And he pledged to create a Statewide Anti-Hunger Task Force with one goal being to increase “the use of New York farm products and healthy foods in anti-hunger programs.”

Yes, while painting a rosy picture of New York State’s schoolchildren being educated for the 21st century in a state fueled by sustainable industries and locally-grown food,  Cuomo’s SGEIS has determined that  many New York  schools and much of our vast foodshed will be left vulnerable to the dangers of crazily inadequate setbacks.

Worse, even if the setbacks seem a dandy solution to you, consider that you and the Governor have overlooked another threat to foodsheds in Upstate New York and the Upper Delaware River Basin:  migrating air pollution from the Hancock compressor,  the Millennium Pipeline and other components of the extraction industry.

Fingers crossed that if airborne contaminants endanger the Organic status of local Upstate NY farms, Vermont won’t charge much to  stock NY’s  school lunch programs.

Human Health

In addition to educating our children and feeding them more and healthier local food,  the Gov is determined that New York will Set the “Gold Standard” for Patient Care.

  • “The best way to improve the health of New Yorkers and to lower health care cost is to avoid preventable illness and the health care interventions they require,” he said.

He even devoted 7.5 typewritten pages to sepsis, “An overwhelming immune and inflammatory response to infection.”  He laid out an entire plan of attack to improve preventative care and to combat nosocomial infections. He was inventive and passionate.

He skipped over the fact that his SGEIS has been roundly decried by doctors, medical societies, nurses and epidemiologists for ignoring the cumulative impacts of gas extraction on human health.

He forgot to mention the plethora of reports coming in from the frontlines of Gasland about endocrine disruptions, immune system dysfunction and leukemia.

He ignored that gas extraction and production companies are exempt from revealing the toxins they use in their processes and that doctors are prohibited from telling injured patients the nature of the gas production toxins that have harmed them.

However, our governor made it clear that he intends to be a juggernaut when it comes to ensuring a fair Public Safety Policy that will open like a protective umbrella over all our heads.  He spoke about gun violence and ended with this,  “Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state.”

Yes, Governor Cuomo,  but perhaps there are industries and devices “so lethal that we simply cannot afford”  to welcome them into our communities, either.

I won’t belabor the Governor’s insistence that New York State must improve its reputation for cloaked dealings with lobbyists because one sentence drove all his remonstrations from my head,  “A public database will provide the fullest disclosure of lobbyist and other meetings with state officials in the country.”

Then why, oh why,  Governor Cuomo, did activists have to labor so hard to expose the fact that  Independent Oil and Gas Association  (industry lobbyist) worked hand-in-hand with  NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation to write our State’s gas extraction regulations?

The Governor also outlined a number of new Public Safety initiatives in response to the devastation wrought in New York State by Hurricane Sandy.  He described the NYS 2100 Commission and the importance of building “resiliency” into our “planning, protection and development approaches…”  He vowed to “reduce the emissions that contribute to our changing climate,”  to “increase alternative local renewable power sources,”  and to “provide assistance to property owners to mitigate or sell properties in vulnerable areas.”

Although the Gov is referring to homes damaged or obliterated by Hurricane Sandy,  the door he opens is intriguing.  Will those whose properties are damaged or destroyed by their neighbors’ fracking also be considered “vulnerable?”  Will those property owners also be helped to relocate?  Will they be helped to find a new and better quality of life? Will our organic farmers be rewarded with new  sources of clean water and soil?

And when Cuomo says that,  “Much of New York’s infrastructure is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats,”  is he planning to replace bridges,  roads, and neighborhoods impacted by frack-created earthquakes?

Or when he admits that, “there are miles of aging [ gas] pipeline[s] that are prone to leakage and vulnerable to storm damage (and ground movement) [in New York State],”   does he intend to hire hundreds of new DEC field agents to police, test and enforce remediation of those leaks?  Or will citizens be detailed to stand on either side of the pipes to hold them in place as they rock to the beat of seismic drums?

And when he says we need to “strengthen our wastewater infrastructure” because, “Flooding and storm surges from Lee, Irene, and Sandy resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to waste water treatment plants and the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage,”  is he considering just how toxic the stew would be with Marcellus Shale’s radioactive materials added to the mix?

Or does he believe that his newly-minted  World-Class Emergency Response Network —  like All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men —   will simply put New York  back together again after the extraction industry has bedded, fracked us, and moved on?

 

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Additional Links, Resources and Citations:

“Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems (SES). “Resilience” as applied to ecosystems, or to integrated systems of people and the natural environment, has three defining characteristics:

• The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
• The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
• The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation”

Source: The Resilience Alliance Website

 

As part of  Governor Cuomo’s  plan to “Harden Our Utilities,”  he wants the following NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) recommendations adopted as soon as possible.  It sounds dandy, actually.  Too bad  these initiatives don’t extend to the Department of Environmental Conservation or the gas extractors that Agency is mandated  to regulate.

  • The PSC will be statutorily authorized to levy administrative penalties against each utility for violations of PSC orders and regulations or upon a finding that such utility has failed to provide safe and adequate service under a “reasonable business” standard (comparable to the prudence standard). The size of the potential penalties will be increased, and provisions will be adopted to ensure that the penalties are paid out of shareholder capital and not passed on to ratepayers.
  • The PSC will be authorized to issue an order that directs a utility to comply with recommendations made pursuant to management and operations audits.
  • The PSC will recommence operational audits at least every five years as currently required under the Public Service Law.
  • To implement the strengthened auditing functions of the PSC, consideration will be given to having a dedicated auditing unit to help ensure that the PSC is well-situated to fully exercise its statutory authority and perform both management and operational audits.
  • Consideration will also be given to creating a dedicated unit for investigating and enforcing utility compliance with PSC orders and recommendations and with utility tariffs.
  • Statutory changes should be considered to explicitly authorize the PSC to formally review the performance of each of the Investor-Owned Utilities to provide safe and adequate service, and order appropriate relief including divestiture of some or all of a utility’s assets, subject to both due process standards and the need for continuity of service. To ensure compliance with the recommendations put forth by the PSC after a review, the Commission also recommends the clear establishment of the PSC’s authority to revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
  • DPS staffing and budgetary levels will be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to carry out the newly-designed core functions of the PSC, and procedures should be reviewed to ensure cross-training of the existing workforce, implementation of performance management standards and technology upgrades. Given the substantial retirements at DPS in recent years, the agency currently is not staffed to the level authorized in the FY 2012-13 budget of 524 full-time employees (FTE). Based upon the additional mandates that the Commission recommends, the DPS staffing authorization will be maintained in the FY 2013-14 budget and DPS will recruit and hire up to the 524 FTE allotment to assist in implementation and enforcement of the new mandates.
  • Similar to Sarbanes Oxley where CEOs need to certify the validity of their financial statements, consideration will be given to requiring senior officers of each utility to annually certify to the PSC that the utility is acting in compliance with all applicable State laws, rules, regulations, orders, and procedures, including the statutory requirement to provide safe and adequate service.
  • All appointees to the PSC will have demonstrated competence in some aspect of utility regulation as well as a concern for the public well-being.

Walk About Water: Callicoon, NY

On Monday April 18, forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess Path, Chef Deanna and Chrys Countryman. The three Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!) from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:


(Many thanks to all who organized the Walk About Water community potluck in Callicoon.  It was a wonderful evening.   And especial thanks to Marci MacLean for offering her photos to Breathing.  This is what loving a place and taking joy in it looked like in our River town on April 18, 2011.)

The Walk About Water  website  announced,  “ON APRIL 17TH THROUGH 23,2011, five women will walk 90 miles from the Neversink Reservoir, NY to Salt Springs State Park, PA. We will carry a hand crafted “AMPHORA” of clean water taken from Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains to a place where water is endangered. WALK ABOUT WATER is a grassroots initiative to raise awareness of the sacredness of our water and our land. We will send this water around the world to other endangered lands, as a simple act of solidarity.”

On  Monday  April 18,   forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met  at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess PathChef Deanna and Chrys Countryman.  The three  Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!)  from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:

1. Six women from NY and PA, grateful to live in a place of abundant clean water
2. We represent Mothers, Grandmothers, Sisters, and Daughters
3. We are moved to action by the threat of contaminated water from the extraction of fossil fuels.
4.Our concern over the harm that will come to our families and future generations
   prevents us from simply living our lives peacefully and gratefully.
5. We demand that public health and quality of life for future generations take priority in  decisions that affect everyone.
6. To illustrate our concerns we are carrying the most precious substance on the planet -water -90 miles on foot.
7. We do this to bring attention to how precious and vulnerable this essential resource truly is.
8 The need for clean water is something everyone has in common.
9. We seek to make this important point by visibly honoring what we love.
10 We  bring good wishes to all water drinkers and bath takers.
Tears of appreciation, smiles of joy and loud applause greeted the women’s arrival.  Tannis Kowalchuk was already dressed and negotiating hugs while on  stilts.  Greg Swartz explained the many ways he, Tannis and Simon ensure that their organic farm, Willow Wisp,  produces  excellent food with the least possible water.   A welcome fire was lit and we all noshed on a smorgasbord of salads, chili, bread, chicken, appetizers and desserts provided by each and every one of us.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event
Tannis Kowalchuk, performer and artistic director of the NACL Theater, prepares to “walk about water” on stilts. Tannis, her husband Greg Swartz and their son Simon also own the organic Willow Wisp Farm which offers great CSA deals.
Walking About Water down Callicoon, NY's Main Street.
         And then we joined the Walk About Water women for a stroll down Callicoon’s Lower Main Street  and across the bridge to Pennsylvania
        where we paused because it felt so good.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event
Forty or so water enthusiasts cross the Delaware River in the rain. They look a bit like May flowers, don’t you think? In 2010, American Rivers named the Upper Delaware River, “America’s Most Endangered River.”
Walk About Water Grassroots Event
Misty rain and smiling faces on the Callicoon bridge to Pennsylvania.
The next day,  we  received this note  of thanks and the tears flowed all over again:
We are staying the night in one of the most beautiful communities of people we have ever seen, they gave us a party, walked with us from ny to pa,
raised money for us and sent us off with such love that we will take with us on our journey..words cannot express how full our hearts are..
THANK YOU CALLICOON NY,DAMASCUS PA WE SHOULD ALL LIVE THE WAY THEY DO

Water Walkers~

Chef Denna,Chrys Countryman, Bess Path

Guardians~Frank and Francena

Oscar Night: Open Letter to President Obama


Dear Readers:  Please  celebrate having two of The Upper Delaware River Valley’s sons nominated for  Academy awards:   Josh Fox for “Gasland” and Mark Ruffalo for  “The Kids Are All Right.”

At this auspicious time in world history, send your own letter about Hydraulic Fracturing  to President Obama.   (Many thanks to Marcia Nehemiah for sending both  this link and one for today’s NY Times report on hydraulic fracturing to  The Upper Delaware Network.)

*   *   *   *  *

Dear President Obama,

While you watch the Oscars tonight, you will see clips from “Gasland.”  Please watch them carefully.  The people in the movie are my brothers and sisters.

The waters of the Delaware River Valley   meet the thirsts of 17+ million people and they  are under threat.  (Lower Valley,  Upper Valley)

I thought the Gulf, Flower Mound,  Dimock, PA and scores of others  would be sufficient to show the careless disregard with which gas extractors ply their dangerous trade.  I was wrong.

Gas extracted from my valley does not represent energy independence:  much of it will ship to BP,  Norway, and others.

“Big Coal”  lied to us years ago and its  agenda was shoved down our throats with the connivance of our leaders and representatives.  Pennsylvania and  New York are no better off  — and are probably worse —  for that sad chapter in our histories.

“Big Energy?”  “Clean Gas?”  Just more “Big Coal.”

How many more people have to sicken?   How many more fields & forest lands  have to be destroyed?   (Please support a National Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing!)

How many more neighborhoods, livelihoods, properties have to be wasted by 600+ undisclosed  “proprietary” chemicals? (Please support the Frac Act!)

There comes a point when ambition and greed are just unseemly, Mr. President.  And as we saw and voted in 2008,  ignorance of the cost of something is not an excuse for supporting it.  (The Iraq War.)

Please!  Watch the movie.  No matter what control you believe your opponents wield,  it’s nothing to the power being generated by the  flora and fauna in my valley or the risk they face.

Sincerely,

Liz Bucar

Breathing Is Political

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

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.


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.”

Update: Seismic Thumping in Wayne County, PA


Confusion abounds concerning the seismic thumping planned for our neighbors in Damascus (Wayne County)  Pennsylvania.

First,  as to whether or not the National Environmental Planning Act — used in the State of Wyoming  to trigger an investigation of seismic thumping — would apply to the activity in our Delaware River Corridor, apparently, the answer is,  no.  In a phone conversation with Charles Barsz,  the National Park Service’s (NPS)  Philadelphia Division Chief  of the Wild & Scenic River,  Breathing was informed that, “Seismic thumping apparently falls in the cracks.  Because the NPS does not own the land,  the agency cannot trigger an investigation of seismic thumping or its impact on the River or its fauna.”  Mr. Barsz has promised to look further into concerns raised by seismic thumping on what are frequently single-lane, dirt roads  with little or no shoulder, within a couple hundred feet of the river and  often only yards from residences.  Of particular concern is the often steep descent from the roadside to the River or its tributary creeks below.

Second, although seismic testing acquires valuable geological information by sending sonic shock waves under privately-held lands,  property owners are not reimbursed for the data collected.  In other words,  the information obtained by seismic tests about your private land is sold to gas extraction companies and the information is not available to you as the landholder. You won’t know if the data reveals your property as a good target for drilling but the gas extraction company will.  That disparity in knowledge will  place the landholder at a negotiating disadvantage. (This will be of special concern in New York where landholders can be forced into “compulsory integration.”)

In fact, one local landholder wrote,  “Executive Director Henderson of the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and I are engaged in a dialogue regarding seismic testing.  He agrees that no testing or flags should be allowed on property against that owner’s wishes, and suggests anyone who’s been trespassed [against]  should contact their local or state police.  Perhaps anyone upset about the testing should follow his advice.” (Bold added for emphasis.)

The Chenango County Farm Bureau offers two documents of especial interest to property owners:   “Stop Roadway Seismic Testing Without Your Permission” (which the organization says has been used “with some success”)  and a “Memorandum on Seismic Testing” which addresses the issue of trespass by  companies which, essentially,  “steal”  your substrata information.

And lastly,  seismic testing comes in a lot of different flavors but there are two types usually done on roadways.  “Vibroseis ” is done with seismic vibrators which “shake” the ground over a period of time.  “Thumping” is a higher impact testing done by dropping a heavy weight (usually multiple times).  (A video and a more detailed explanation of the two types can be Found at Google Videos:   Vibrating the Earth – Vibroseis)

One particularly interesting sidelight of seismic testing is that it reveals faults in the geologic layers of the earth which are of particular interest to gas extraction companies seeking areas where toxic by-products of fracking can be injected.  Such injections would  save companies the expense of trucking  the toxic fluids to treatment facilities.   Underground injections of toxic flow-back materials are discussed more-fully here.  The contention  that such injections are environmentally-sound and safe  has been hotly contested by those  who cite to upward migrations of the toxins which may contaminate our vital aquifers and groundwater.

Ms. Karen Dussinger,  Press Officer in District 4 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)  told a Breathing source that  PennDOT permitted Dawson Geophysical Company to do the seismic testing in accordance with PA Code Title 67, Section 459.9(f).  In part, the statute reads,

(f) Seismograph—vibroseis method. Seismograph—vibroseis method shall comply with the following:

(1) Seismograph operations by other than the vibroseis method will not be permitted. (Bold added for emphasis.)

(2) A permit will not be issued to authorize seismograph operations within limited access highway right-of-way.

(3) Wherever possible, seismograph operations shall be performed entirely off the pavement and shoulder to lessen interference to traffic.

Breathing is  not certain whether  the two technologies — vibroseis and thumping  — are used in tandem but it seems clear from the statute that PennDOT is not authorized to permit  Dawson or any other company to use high-impact thumping on Pennsylvania’s roadways.

Breathing has asked various agency representatives, biologists and geologists to help locate more definitive studies of the impact of vibroseis on geologic substrata,  residential foundations and fauna such as bats, fish and snakes.  When, and if, that information is made available,  it will be published here.

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

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.”

Callicoon-On-The-Delaware: One Morning


I grew up playing baseball, growing veggies with my grandmother  and riding horses  in Madison, Ohio.  It’s   a small village in the northeast corner of the state  that sits  five  miles from the shores of Lake Erie.  When I was in school, the Cuyahoga River caught fire  regularly  and  “Help me!  I’m dying,” was scrawled in graffiti letters on the side of a Lake Erie  pier.   Anyone who lived along its banks already knew the lake was in jeopardy.   The miles of fish carcasses strewn along the shore were clue enough.

Today, I live in a lovely, well-worn  home overlooking the banks of the Delaware River in the Hamlet of Callicoon, NY.  Whether I drink my morning coffee on my front  porch or at a bedroom window,  the gleam of the river is the first thing I see each day.

I’ve stood on the bridge that connects Pennslvania to New York and watched vacation trailers float  beneath me in a torrent of brown flood.  I’ve watched ice floes pile and pile so high  that I’ve never doubted our  tenancy  rests  in Nature’s hands.

But for  more than the River, I came home to Callicoon for the people and early morning walks down Main Street.

This morning’s first  stop was  The Delaware Valley Free Library,  built in 1913.   As I approached the door with my ever-late book returns,  Bernie, a friend from “the PA side,”  poked his head out  saying,  “Got a minute?  We have to talk.”  His dark  hair hangs well below his stocking cap  and his salt and pepper beard reminds me of my old hippie days.  He’s wandered through the Far East and Buddhist Temples and now, he works as hard as anyone I know to preserve and protect the river and its hamlets.   He wants to be sure we’re  ready for  this Saturday’s  forum on  Gas Drilling and Public Health that we’re helping to coordinate.  It will be held in  Callicoon’s  Delaware Youth Center this coming Saturday.

At the back of the Library is a public room with murder mysteries and computers where locals chat  as often as they read.  As we finalize our last minute plans for the forum,  the owner of Callicoon Van & Taxi Service wanders in with a big “Mornin’, all!”  and settles at one of the internet terminals.  A half hour or so later,  as I pay my fines and check out a selection of  Martha Grimes and Louise Penny mysteries,  an elder whose head almost reaches my shoulder breathes toward my ear,  “Oooo.  Martha Grimes!”   “Yup,”  I nod.  “Richard Jury’s  my one true love,”  and the conversation’s  off  and running until I remember I’ve got three  more stops at least.  She pats the cover of  a book  I’ve just returned.  “The winter’s too long these days,” she sighs, “and I need all the books I can get.”

Headed toward The I.O.U.,  my favorite store in the universe,  I remember I need stamps.  Yes, stamps.  I send birthday  cards that carry  fingerprints and smudged ink because anyone who’s struggled down a birth canal deserves more than misty electrons floating in an ethernet pipeline.

The main lobby of the post office is closed.   Bud,   a long-time resident who migrated up from NYC decades  ago,  shakes his head at me from the driver’s seat of his truck.  “And it’ll stay closed for a full 90 minutes,”  he says.

“Well wouldn’t  Mae Poley and Wilda Priebe have called that  heaven in the old days,”  I say.   (Mae and Wilda were North Branch’s  post mistresses when I first moved to  The Delaware River Basin.  They’d taken over  from their mother  when she retired  and Mae,  her husband Earl  and their daughter Amy still  live in the old building that houses the PO.  When  I was a young  single mom with a baby to raise, the sisters   made sure I had plenty of house cleaning and dairy farm  jobs to feed the little bugger.  Neither of them ever closed the post office for more than  half  an hour and even then,  we all knew where to find them.  More than once,  Mae fed me lunch at her kitchen table.  She thought it’d keep me quiet till she was ready to re-open the window.   I still remember the day Wilda admitted she knew fewer and fewer of the  “new folks”  who were buying the old, empty houses in North Branch.  The Poleys, Priebes  and so many others are  woven into my life here in  The Basin. I’ve  cared for their loved ones  in the Callicoon Hospital,   rattled rafters with them at Democratic Party meetings and cheered all our  kids from Tee Ball to graduation.

“I like your ‘Drilling Isn’t Safe’  button,”  Bud says and I invite him to  the forum on Saturday.  For an hour, we catch up on all the people we know in common  and where they are.

“Ya’ know Barbara and George Hahn?”  I ask.  “Sure!”  he says.  “We were  in school together.”   Barbara was an RN who flew over the original Woodstock Festival in a medical helicopter with Abby Hoffman.  Her husband, George,  had the Jeffersonville Veterinary for decades.  They spent a whole afternoon giving me the skinny on my Jeff postcards.  Although, truth be told, their memories weren’t always…synchronized, George’s  family  hearkened back to the days when our first settlers spent their first winters hunkered down in caves till their houses could be built.  (The old Hahn farmstead was where Apple Pond Farm is today in Callicoon Center.)  Barbara and George moved to Connecticut this winter to be nearer their  kids.  “They lit my days,”  I say, missing them all over again.

Bud says his  daughter  was laid off when the Neversink Public School closed its reading program to save money.  “Can’t  pass a math test if ya’ can’t read,”  he mutters.

My heart was set on a stop at the I.O.U. but I still needed  a few things at Peck’s and as ever, the morning was nearly gone.

Peck’s is more than just a village grocery.  For years, Art and Beth Peck worked day and night growing  their first Narrowsburg store  till  it  became another and another and another.  Just as Beth’s energy fed the  Narrowsburg Library,  the local arts alliance and theater and a small news sheet that eventually became The River Reporter, when they retired, the Pecks ensured their employees were vested in the small chain’s future.  But that’s not why Peck’s is  more than a grocery.  As my friend Marci says, “If I’ve got things to do at home, I don’t dare go to Peck’s.”  Even if you make it down the aisles at a run,  there’s the check out where neighbors share the news of the day.   Among others, this morning,   I ran into Fred Stabbert, III,  publisher  of The Democrat,  Callicoon’s hometown newspaper.   He was in college when I first worked for the paper that was handed down from his grandfather to his father and not so long ago, to him.    Anyone who moves  to Sullivan County  should make it a point to read The Democrat’s  “Down The Decades”  page.  It’s a wonderful compendium of  more than 100 years of Sullivan County  history  — from the “white knights who protected our women”  in, thankfully, bygone  days to our more modern times.  Those pages, in concert with  Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County are a must-read if you’re interested in the foundations of your new home.

Most days, I feel a terrible urgency about painting  a picture the outside world will see and cherish as much as I do.  Our River valley’s  wealth and health depend on each of us.  We are a generous people.  We care for each other — for our   elders  who return home alone after a hospitalization  because their children have left   in search of better jobs;  for our young people  who are learning the old arts from teachers like Bobbie Allees over at the Sullivan West Central School in Lake Huntington.

Our memories are long,  stretching  back to the days when our early families  lived in caves above Callicoon Center and North Branch.  Much of our strength derives from our open arms;  arms that have welcomed organic sustainable agriculture to replace the old dairies.  Fiber artists, novelists, poets  and even Hollywood actors have made  The Basin their home.   And just this winter,  our valley  sent two of our sons to The  Sundance Film Festival where Zac Stuart-Pontier won critical acclaim as an editor for “Catfish”  and Josh Fox’s  “Gasland”    brought home  Sundance’s Special Jury Prize for Documentaries.

Like Appalachia, Texas, Ohio and countless others  before us, our valley faces a threat from outside.

But with each new year,  our farmers, artists, teachers, librarians, nurses  —  old-timers  and newcomers —  carve  a new historic tablet.

Please come to the  Delaware Community Center  February 20th at 4:00 PM.   Learn what gas drilling may mean to the future of our valley.

*******

(Postscript to yesterday’s article.   Bread bakers who read yesterday’s article will be unsurprised to learn that my pumpernickel  loaves  were reluctant to rise.  The yeast knows when the baker’s spoiling for a fight.  I suspect anger makes the air too heavy.)

New Gas Drilling Production: A Theater Near You


To  read  Breathing’s review of  the sometimes-bawdy, always entertaining,   “Corporate Relations:  Gas Does Marcellus”  please click here.

The choice is yours:  pay the admission price for a  tired old movie with a cast of raggedy characters  (be prepared to swallow long and hard)  OR  pop on  over to “Ban Natural Gas Drilling In New York State”  and sign the petition.