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.
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
Wells Fargo (will know for sure in a few days)
Bank of America
“A few local lenders who underwrite their own are still lending, ” Ms. Canfield continued. “We are trying to also get a determination from the sources at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae.”)
Additionally, FHA rules (Federal Housing Adminstration) state, “No existing home may be located closer than 300 feet from an active or planned drilling site. If an operating [gas] well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”
Another long-serving realtor, David Knudsen responded at his site, “When a property has a gas lease on it that permits use of the surface for drilling, a third party essentially has the rights to materially change the property. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, those material changes to the surface could affect the value of the property, possibly devaluing the asset that the bank has lent on. Likewise, appraisals become difficult. Any piece of real property comes with a ‘bundle of rights’ that comprise its value. A gas lease essentially severs one of those rights, gas extraction, from the real property, so it becomes difficult to determine the value of the property without that right to transfer with the real property. It makes valuation very complicated. And in this still-tight lending environment, most lenders don’t want to deal with anything complicated or with an unquantifiable risk.”
Mr. Paul Hindes, the Town of Delaware’s representative to the Multi-Municipal Gas Drilling Taskforce (MMTF), explained the MMTF has been focused on creating Road Use Agreements the Taskforce hopes will provide asset protection in the event that gas drilling comes to its eight member towns. “We want all eight towns to have identical road use laws that take into consideration not only the weight of industrial trucks on our roads but also the weight of those trucks over a cumulative period of time.”
Bill Eschenberg, the Town’s Highway Superintendent, said he didn’t see any evidence of harm from gas drilling during his trip to “Susquehanna” where Dimock, Pennsylvania is located. “If trucks wreck roads, they won’t keep running over them. They need to fix them for the benefit of their own equipment.”
In contrast, after a trip to Dimock during this past winter, Breathing reported, “Throughout Dimock, signs of poverty are clearly visible and the state of dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore. Ruts were so deep and continuous that humps as high as 8-9″ threatened the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part, may have prompted the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our local roads.” (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)
In his final comment, Mr. Van Swol said, “Don’t worry about money for DEC inspectors. The New York State Legislature will give us whatever we need due to all the money coming from drilling and a severance tax.”
Virginia Andkjar, one of the Town’s Assesor stated, “Unfortunately, it looks like the severance tax will be just a pittance.”
According to pages 98-99 of Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book, the severance tax amounts to 3% on some gas extraction companies, won’t be levied until 2011-12 and is predicted to garner only $1 million in revenues.
CALLICOON CREEK PARK SCHEDULE (not including regularly-scheduled Sunday Farmers’ Markets):
May 22 at 10:00 AM : Plant Swap. Email me at Ljbucar@earthlink.net for details
July 10, 31 and August 21 or 28 (still in flux): Under the Moon in Callicoon Concert Series. Janet Burgan, coordinator. Keep your eyes and ears pealed for details!
July 17 : Art Fair. For more information, see Robin at The Callicoon Wine Merchant