Tag Archives: home rule

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


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

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUBLIC COMMENT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASTERISKS

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

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

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.”