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.”

 

May 1st  was International Workers’ Day.  Some call it   “The Real Labor Day.”

In 1886,  the American Federation of Labor (AFL)  called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour  workday.   According to Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264)  on May 1,  1886,

350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike.  In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking.  Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed.  The stockyards were closed down.”

In 1880,  The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and  Chicago’s   was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II,  there were   2.8 million  men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000  manufacturing  facilities.  Using  Zinn’s figures then,  approximately 13% of US workers  went out on strike  May 1, 1886.

Imagine,  in 2009,  if 13% of  the US’  140 million “documented”  workers had struck for  universal health care  and a living wage.   Go ahead.  Imagine  18 million  workers thronging the  streets, hand-in-hand, advocating  for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.

In 1983,  my oldest son was born and we were in the middle of a “economic downturn.”  A gallon of gas cost $1.25,  a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was  $335.  Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour.  (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)

Seventeen years later, after the boom times of the 1990’s,  most of us freelance “domestic workers”  could make  $15-20 an hour.  Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were  being paid  in the $25-30 range.

In July  2009 — the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 —   the US  minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.

This past May 1st,  I worked and was glad for it  though I know  Grandma and Grandpa were  rolling in their graves.  (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history;  the day we  remembered  Samuel Gompers,  the AFL  and the perfidy of  police officers who helped  smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and  equal pay regardless of  gender and race.)

On May 1, 2010,  I informed a prospective employer  that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house”  and cited to the round-trip  travel time, cost of products, gas,  fuel oil, rent, etc.

The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise,  “We won’t pay that.  We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”

“That’s interesting,”  said I.  “A few years ago,  the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”

“Not anymore,”  came the smug-sounding reply.

There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.

I asked another  “City dweller” — a member of a  white collar union  and gas drilling opponent —   what the going rate for domestic services  is in her neighborhood.  “Ten dollars an hour,”  she answered.  “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”

“‘Illegals?  You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”

She shrugged.

So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes  in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:

When you pay less than subsistence wages to  the “undocumented human”  who has to buy groceries and pay rent  in Manhattan,  Brooklyn or Long Island,

YOU  DRIVE DOWN  the wages of the person struggling  beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and

YOU ENSURE MORE WORKERS  WILL SIGN LEASES IN HOPES OF WINNING THE  GAS LOTTERY.

When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City,  I was told their  ability to share the wealth is constrained  by their loss of retirement funds;  that their disposable income has been drastically reduced  by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.

I understand.  My bank account plunged right beside theirs and Sullivan County’s  real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited  10.9%

So given that we’re all in  greatly reduced circumstances,  here’s my deal:  I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5  to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s  wage in the City to a  $15 cash rate.

If you can still afford to hire domestic help,  for your own sake,  pay them a living wage.  Otherwise, whose disposable income will  keep you in business?

I saved money during the 1983 downturn.  I paid the hospital and obstetrician  cash for their services.

The son born to me in 1983  was admitted to the New York State Bar last week.  If he was born today,  I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.

Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb.  A child’s life depends, in large part,  on the health of the mother and on  the parents’  ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.

For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability  depend on you and me  caring about equitable treatment for all.  It does NOT depend on any one of us short-changing another simply because we can.

As for union workers who de-value the work and lives  of others’,  as I write this,  America’s teachers’ unions are the new target of labor reforms.  If the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each spare nickle,  when will we have leisure to come to your defense?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUBLIC COMMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On April 2, 2010,  NYS Assembly bill 10490 was referred to the New York Assembly’s  Environmental Conservation Committee (EnCon).  The Bill  will establish a moratorium on gas drilling in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency releases its study of the gas industry and its  impacts.

On April, 13, 2010,  NYS Assembly Bill  10633 was referred to the Assembly’s EnCon Committee.  The  “home rule” bill will give local governments  zoning control over where gas drilling can occur in their jurisdictions.

Two days later, April 15th,  was a busy, busy day in New York gas news:

  • New York’s gas extraction lobby, the  Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA-NY)  proposed to  rescue “New York State’s environmental and parks budgets”  by  drilling in New York’s protected park lands.  IOGA-NY’s  press release  asserted, “New York State could raise more than $200 million in fiscal year 2010-11…” and urged, “expediting the auction of state land leases and the application approval process.”  (According to Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book, the current budget deficit  is $3.2 billion and is expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2010-11, $14.3 billion in 2011-12 and by 2013,  $20.7 billion.)
  • At the same conference, “DEC Director of Mineral Resources, Bradley Field…[said] the entire process, including the issuance of [gas drilling] permits, would be finished in 2010.”

To ensure that  New York  taxpayers get a return on  the billions of gallons of free water the gas companies use in gas extraction and to offset the possible contamination of  State parks  “which welcome “more than 55 million visitors each year,” (2009 Annual Report)  Governor Patterson has proposed a 3% severance tax on some gas extraction companies. (Budget Briefing Book, pp 98-99). Unfortunately, the tax won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and will garner only  $1 million in revenues.

(By comparison,  Texas’  2007 severance tax on the  gas industry was  7.5% and produced  $2.76 billion in revenues.   Mayor Tillman of DISH, TX assured an audience in Callicoon, NY,

“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.”   (A previous Breathing article,  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.”

Although IOGA-NY’s April 15th  press release expressed concern for  the terrible state of  New York’s finances,  the gas lobby  continues  to oppose a severance tax  while urging lawmakers to entrust  the State’s public lands  to them for $200 million.

Despite the industry’s offer,  Texas’ annual severance tax of  7.5% sounds like a better deal than the 3% proposed by Governor Patterson or our $200 million share in their multi-billion dollar profits; especially since  the DEC  (dSGEIS, Chapter 9, page 6) estimates, “… 2,000 wells per year ± 25% in the New York Marcellus play.”

Two thousand wells per year?  Only 29 new DEC staff  (Budget Briefing Book, page 53) to oversee billions of gallons of  toxic fracking fluids and  radioactive waters produced by the fracking process?   Billions of dollars of gas company  profits on the backs of New York State’s  taxpayers and our  parks  and  water resources?  Billions of gallons of our water used in  fracking operations for free?   And the gas lobby believes  we can be bought off with a $200 million mosquito bite out of our multi-billion dollar deficit?

Email, call or write your Assembly and  Senate members  and tell them to support a Moratorium and local control over the siting of gas wells in our communities. (Assembly member Aileen Gunther has already signed on to both bills.)  Call your friends and neighbors.  Email them this article so they know what’s at stake. And then, write  letters to the editors of your local newspapers.  Spread the word any way you can.  The gas lobby has the money.  We have the votes.

Get busy and  we can do the other thing Mayor Tillman suggested,  “Get it right.  Learn from the mistakes made in DISH, TX.”

DISH, TX…where new studies have revealed that not only were the air and water  contaminated by the gas industry, but so were  the people.

And look again at the April timeline  above.  The gas lobby has drawn a bead on elected representatives who are working for community rights, Home Rule and studies of  hydraulic fracturing. Is the lobby worried New York residents and taxpayers will vote for the health and welfare of New York and against gas company profits and a few pieces of silver?

On April 2, 2010,  NYS Assembly bill 10490 was referred to the New York Assembly’s  Environmental Conservation Committee (EnCon).  The Bill  will establish a moratorium on gas drilling in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency releases its study of the gas industry and its  impacts.

On April, 13, 2010,  NYS Assembly Bill  10633 was referred to the Assembly’s EnCon Committee.  The  “home rule” bill will give local governments  zoning control over where gas drilling can occur in their jurisdictions.

Two days later, April 15th,  was a busy, busy day in New York gas news:

  • New York’s gas extraction lobby, the  Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA-NY)  proposed to  rescue “New York State’s environmental and parks budgets”  by  drilling in New York’s protected park lands.  IOGA-NY’s  press release  asserted, “New York State could raise more than $200 million in fiscal year 2010-11…” and urged, “expediting the auction of state land leases and the application approval process.”  (According to Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book, the current budget deficit  is $3.2 billion and is expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2010-11, $14.3 billion in 2011-12 and by 2013,  $20.7 billion.)
  • At the same conference, “DEC Director of Mineral Resources, Bradley Field…[said] the entire process, including the issuance of [gas drilling] permits, would be finished in 2010.”

To ensure that  New York  taxpayers get a return on  the billions of gallons of free water the gas companies use in gas extraction and to offset the possible contamination of  State parks  “which welcome “more than 55 million visitors each year,” (2009 Annual Report)  Governor Patterson has proposed a 3% severance tax on some gas extraction companies. (Budget Briefing Book, pp 98-99). Unfortunately, the tax won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and will garner only  $1 million in revenues.

(By comparison,  Texas’  2007 severance tax on the  gas industry was  7.5% and produced  $2.76 billion in revenues.   Mayor Tillman of DISH, TX assured an audience in Callicoon, NY,

“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.”   (A previous Breathing article,  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.”

Although IOGA-NY’s April 15th  press release expressed concern for  the terrible state of  New York’s finances,  the gas lobby  continues  to oppose a severance tax  while urging lawmakers to entrust  the State’s public lands  to them for $200 million.

Despite the industry’s offer,  Texas’ annual severance tax of  7.5% sounds like a better deal than the 3% proposed by Governor Patterson or our $200 million share in their multi-billion dollar profits; especially since  the DEC  (dSGEIS, Chapter 9, page 6) estimates, “… 2,000 wells per year ± 25% in the New York Marcellus play.”

Two thousand wells per year?  Only 29 new DEC staff  (Budget Briefing Book, page 53) to oversee billions of gallons of  toxic fracking fluids and  radioactive waters produced by the fracking process?   Billions of dollars of gas company  profits on the backs of New York State’s  taxpayers and our  parks  and  water resources?  Billions of gallons of our water used in  fracking operations for free?   And the gas lobby believes  we can be bought off with a $200 million mosquito bite out of our multi-billion dollar deficit?

Email, call or write your Assembly and  Senate members  and tell them to support a Moratorium and local control over the siting of gas wells in our communities. (Assembly member Aileen Gunther has already signed on to both bills.)  Call your friends and neighbors.  Email them this article so they know what’s at stake. And then, write  letters to the editors of your local newspapers.  Spread the word any way you can.  The gas lobby has the money.  We have the votes.

Get busy and  we can do the other thing Mayor Tillman suggested,  “Get it right.  Learn from the mistakes made in DISH, TX.”

DISH, TX…where new studies have revealed that not only were the air and water  contaminated by the gas industry, but so were  the people.

And look again at the April timeline  above.  The gas lobby has drawn a bead on elected representatives who are working for community rights, Home Rule and studies of  hydraulic fracturing. Is the lobby worried New York residents and taxpayers will vote for the health and welfare of New York and against gas company profits and a few pieces of silver?

IN SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY:    According to an article on the front page of the  March 9, 2010  Sullivan County Democrat, “On March 2, the Sullivan County Clerk’s Office filed four new gas leases in western Sullivan County…  Industry insiders have acknowledged that leasing slowed down while everyone awaits New York State’s finalization of new gas drilling rules.  Those rules are expected to go into effect later this year, and with Sullivan County sitting on what has been identified as a deep and potentially plentiful source of Marcellus Shale natural gas, industry interest has reappeared. ”

According to the article, of the four recently-signed leases,  two  are for mineral rights in the Town of Delaware,  one is in  the Town of Cochecton and one is in the Town of Fremont.

This  Thursday  (March 18, 2010)  the Sullivan County Legislature will meet in  full at  2:00 PM in the Government Center at 100 North Street in Monticello, NY.   In accord with  Breathing’s March 5, 2010 article about Sullivan County’s current efforts to update its  Hazards Mitigation Plan,   the  March 18th  meeting is open to the public and would be one venue in which to ask that the Legislature conduct public meetings  where  residents can hear from and ask questions of  Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and our  emergency responders.  The linked article  contains other suggestions that might be made to the Sullivan County Legislature.

The Delaware Town Board is meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday March 17th) at 7:00 PM  in Hortonville.

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

On March 11, 2010,  The River Reporter published  a  letter to the editor from James Barth in which he alleged that David Jones, drilling and hydraulic fracturing proponent and  a member of  Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association, “… either alone, or with partners, has purchased,  just since the natural gas boom talk started, the following acreage: In June of 2008, Jones Partners LP purchased 185 acres in Berlin Township for $1,000,000. In August of 2008, David C. Jones purchased 68.99 acres in Damascus Township for $438,500. In May of 2009, Ruth M. and David C. Jones purchased two plots of land in Preston Township that totaled 181.75 acres at a cost of $825,000.  Therefore, in the 12-month period between June of 2008 and June of 2009, Mr. Jones and partners seem to have paid $2,263,500 for 435.75 acres of land. During this period, Mr. Jones has been a vocal proponent of high volume, slick water hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale.”  (Mr. Barth cites to “tax assessment public records.”  By following the link and searching for “Jones” and “Jones Partners,”  you will find the records referenced by Mr. Barth.)

After reading Mr. Barth’s letter,  Breathing phoned  Mr. Jones and  asked  whether or not  he’d made  the 2008-2009 land purchases  and if so,  where he’d gotten  the necessary funding ($2,263,499).

Mr. Jones —  who has been unfailingly civil and generous with his time  in our conversations —  provided answers off-the-record but would not address his real estate purchases  publicly.

He did have opinions concerning news that the Wayne Highlands School District is considering leasing its gas rights to HessNewfield.  “It’s a great idea to lease school property.  The wells have to be far enough from  a school in case of an accident — because you never know — a minimum of 500 feet from any structure.  Our  local and school taxes are too high.”

At the  March 9, 2010  Wayne Highlands Board of Education  meeting, members of the public expressed concerns over siting gas wells on school property.  Some referenced a recent talk in Callicoon by Mayor Tillman in which he vehemently opposed drilling in school yards and also explained why children should not be exposed  to  air and water toxins which  might  result  from such drilling.

On the question of whether or not Pennsylvania should levy a severance  tax on gas extraction  (as has been done in all other extraction states  except New York and Pennsylvania)  Mr. Jones was unequivocal, “No.  We already tax royalties paid to lessors.  There are other ways to raise state revenues.  For one thing, we could lease public lands.”

A February 12, 2010  press release from  PA State Representative John Siptroth roundly criticized expanding gas leases on PA’s  State  lands.  In part,  Siptroth’s press release reads, “‘The local recreation industry would suffer great loss, as would hunting and fishing activities….  The few local jobs created by the gas industry are not worth losing hundreds more jobs that depend on Pike County’s pristine environment.’  Siptroth has co-sponsored House Bill 2235, which would put a five-year moratorium on leasing additional state forest land for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.  The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act would give the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sole discretion after the moratorium ends Dec. 31, 2015 to determine if state forests can withstand additional natural gas exploration.”

In his January 28, 2010 letter  to Governor Rendell,  Representative Siptroth writes, “Today more than one-third of the entire State Forest — over 700,000 acres — is either already under lease or acreage on which the mineral rights are not owned by the state.  At least 100 wells are slated to be drilled in the State Forest in the coming year, and it’s expected that we could have as many as 1,500 well pads with 5,000-6,000 wells drilled over the next decade on the State Forest land that was leased in just the last 18 months.”

David Jones also believes  it would be appropriate for the Town of Damascus to  change its zoning regulations to permit gas extraction in its Rural Residential District.  “It will benefit residents.  It’s what  the majority of people want.”

As to the ability of  Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to regulate and oversee gas extraction,  Mr. Jones stated,  “We need more  DEP  inspectors  but I believe that’s being taken care of.  There’s a new field office in Scranton.”

Mr. Jones is referencing announcements made in January and February by Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell and DEP Secretary John  Hanger which stated, in part,   “DEP will hire 68 permitting and inspection staff, including 10 for the new Scranton office, in response to expectations that the industry will apply for 5,200 new Marcellus Shale drilling permits in 2010—nearly three times the number of permits issued during 2009.”

According to DEP’s own records, there are significant discrepancies between the numbers of  wells permitted during 2009 (6,240 vs.  2,543)  and the number drilled since 2005  (19, 165 vs. 18,796).  Also according to DEP’s records,  there were 9,848 well inspections during 2009 which revealed  3,361 violations and  resulted in 678 enforcements.  (Numbers are culled from DEP’s 2009 Year End Report and its  2009  Year End Workload Report.  Other numbers are available at the 2010 Permit and Rig Activity Report.   The reports can be found at:  http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/minres/OILGAS/oilgas.htm

Mr. Jones was willing to be quoted also  about protecting  the Delaware River and its environs from  a proposed power line which would traverse three National Parks.  According to The National Park Service (NPS) : “We would like to inform you of a new planning effort at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and PSE&G, have proposed to upgrade and expand a power transmission line from Susquehanna (Berwick, Pennsylvania)  to Roseland, New Jersey (the S-R Line)…that currently crosses the three Parks….”   (The National Park Service’s Scoping Newsletter on  PPL-PSEG’s  proposed power line upgrade and expansion is  here.)

Although three plans —  Projects A, B and C — have been debated during the past few years,  the National Park Service gave the nod to Plan B in 2009. (All three of the planned routes are mapped here with brief descriptions of the areas proposed for transection.  Another good breakdown is offered by The Times Tribune with links to NPS  maps.)

However, NPS  has re-opened  discussions recently  on the  three possible routes and that  has Mr. Jones concerned.  “Plan A is the worst of the three,”  he said.  “The Park Service will have to buy land,  clear land and  put a tower on an island that floods.  It’s going to cost.  The environmental impacts will be greater than from Plan B.  We’ve got  an endangered cactus species where  Route A would go.  Not many people know that.   There’s a crystal-clear native trout stream. The line will go over one of my campgrounds.  Nobody will want to camp there.  The Delaware Water Gap is the gateway to  the Delaware River recreational area.  It’s  going to look great  with power lines draped across it,” he said sarcastically.  “New Jersey needs power but it doesn’t want the lines.  It’s a waste of energy to run them so far from where the population need is.”

Mr. Jones suggested  that,  “[The power lines] should go where the people are — where more people will be using the power.  But they’ll fight that.”

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

*For more on Chesapeake, please read Breathing’s article,  “Chesapeake Energy and Penn State’s Robert Watson :  Who Are Those Guys?

IN SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY:    According to an article on the front page of the  March 9, 2010  Sullivan County Democrat, “On March 2, the Sullivan County Clerk’s Office filed four new gas leases in western Sullivan County…  Industry insiders have acknowledged that leasing slowed down while everyone awaits New York State’s finalization of new gas drilling rules.  Those rules are expected to go into effect later this year, and with Sullivan County sitting on what has been identified as a deep and potentially plentiful source of Marcellus Shale natural gas, industry interest has reappeared. ”

According to the article, of the four recently-signed leases,  two  are for mineral rights in the Town of Delaware,  one is in  the Town of Cochecton and one is in the Town of Fremont.

This  Thursday  (March 18, 2010)  the Sullivan County Legislature will meet in  full at  2:00 PM in the Government Center at 100 North Street in Monticello, NY.   In accord with  Breathing’s March 5, 2010 article about Sullivan County’s current efforts to update its  Hazards Mitigation Plan,   the  March 18th  meeting is open to the public and would be one venue in which to ask that the Legislature conduct public meetings  where  residents can hear from and ask questions of  Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and our  emergency responders.  The linked article  contains other suggestions that might be made to the Sullivan County Legislature.

The Delaware Town Board is meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday March 17th) at 7:00 PM  in Hortonville.

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

On March 11, 2010,  The River Reporter published  a  letter to the editor from James Barth in which he alleged that David Jones, drilling and hydraulic fracturing proponent and  a member of  Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association, “… either alone, or with partners, has purchased,  just since the natural gas boom talk started, the following acreage: In June of 2008, Jones Partners LP purchased 185 acres in Berlin Township for $1,000,000. In August of 2008, David C. Jones purchased 68.99 acres in Damascus Township for $438,500. In May of 2009, Ruth M. and David C. Jones purchased two plots of land in Preston Township that totaled 181.75 acres at a cost of $825,000.  Therefore, in the 12-month period between June of 2008 and June of 2009, Mr. Jones and partners seem to have paid $2,263,500 for 435.75 acres of land. During this period, Mr. Jones has been a vocal proponent of high volume, slick water hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale.”  (Mr. Barth cites to “tax assessment public records.”  By following the link and searching for “Jones” and “Jones Partners,”  you will find the records referenced by Mr. Barth.)

After reading Mr. Barth’s letter,  Breathing phoned  Mr. Jones and  asked  whether or not  he’d made  the 2008-2009 land purchases  and if so,  where he’d gotten  the necessary funding ($2,263,499).

Mr. Jones —  who has been unfailingly civil and generous with his time  in our conversations —  provided answers off-the-record but would not address his real estate purchases  publicly.

He did have opinions concerning news that the Wayne Highlands School District is considering leasing its gas rights to HessNewfield.  “It’s a great idea to lease school property.  The wells have to be far enough from  a school in case of an accident — because you never know — a minimum of 500 feet from any structure.  Our  local and school taxes are too high.”

At the  March 9, 2010  Wayne Highlands Board of Education  meeting, members of the public expressed concerns over siting gas wells on school property.  Some referenced a recent talk in Callicoon by Mayor Tillman in which he vehemently opposed drilling in school yards and also explained why children should not be exposed  to  air and water toxins which  might  result  from such drilling.

On the question of whether or not Pennsylvania should levy a severance  tax on gas extraction  (as has been done in all other extraction states  except New York and Pennsylvania)  Mr. Jones was unequivocal, “No.  We already tax royalties paid to lessors.  There are other ways to raise state revenues.  For one thing, we could lease public lands.”

A February 12, 2010  press release from  PA State Representative John Siptroth roundly criticized expanding gas leases on PA’s  State  lands.  In part,  Siptroth’s press release reads, “‘The local recreation industry would suffer great loss, as would hunting and fishing activities….  The few local jobs created by the gas industry are not worth losing hundreds more jobs that depend on Pike County’s pristine environment.’  Siptroth has co-sponsored House Bill 2235, which would put a five-year moratorium on leasing additional state forest land for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.  The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act would give the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sole discretion after the moratorium ends Dec. 31, 2015 to determine if state forests can withstand additional natural gas exploration.”

In his January 28, 2010 letter  to Governor Rendell,  Representative Siptroth writes, “Today more than one-third of the entire State Forest — over 700,000 acres — is either already under lease or acreage on which the mineral rights are not owned by the state.  At least 100 wells are slated to be drilled in the State Forest in the coming year, and it’s expected that we could have as many as 1,500 well pads with 5,000-6,000 wells drilled over the next decade on the State Forest land that was leased in just the last 18 months.”

David Jones also believes  it would be appropriate for the Town of Damascus to  change its zoning regulations to permit gas extraction in its Rural Residential District.  “It will benefit residents.  It’s what  the majority of people want.”

As to the ability of  Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to regulate and oversee gas extraction,  Mr. Jones stated,  “We need more  DEP  inspectors  but I believe that’s being taken care of.  There’s a new field office in Scranton.”

Mr. Jones is referencing announcements made in January and February by Pennsylvania’s Governor Rendell and DEP Secretary John  Hanger which stated, in part,   “DEP will hire 68 permitting and inspection staff, including 10 for the new Scranton office, in response to expectations that the industry will apply for 5,200 new Marcellus Shale drilling permits in 2010—nearly three times the number of permits issued during 2009.”

According to DEP’s own records, there are significant discrepancies between the numbers of  wells permitted during 2009 (6,240 vs.  2,543)  and the number drilled since 2005  (19, 165 vs. 18,796).  Also according to DEP’s records,  there were 9,848 well inspections during 2009 which revealed  3,361 violations and  resulted in 678 enforcements.  (Numbers are culled from DEP’s 2009 Year End Report and its  2009  Year End Workload Report.  Other numbers are available at the 2010 Permit and Rig Activity Report.   The reports can be found at:  http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/minres/OILGAS/oilgas.htm

Mr. Jones was willing to be quoted also  about protecting  the Delaware River and its environs from  a proposed power line which would traverse three National Parks.  According to The National Park Service (NPS) : “We would like to inform you of a new planning effort at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and PSE&G, have proposed to upgrade and expand a power transmission line from Susquehanna (Berwick, Pennsylvania)  to Roseland, New Jersey (the S-R Line)…that currently crosses the three Parks….”   (The National Park Service’s Scoping Newsletter on  PPL-PSEG’s  proposed power line upgrade and expansion is  here.)

Although three plans —  Projects A, B and C — have been debated during the past few years,  the National Park Service gave the nod to Plan B in 2009. (All three of the planned routes are mapped here with brief descriptions of the areas proposed for transection.  Another good breakdown is offered by The Times Tribune with links to NPS  maps.)

However, NPS  has re-opened  discussions recently  on the  three possible routes and that  has Mr. Jones concerned.  “Plan A is the worst of the three,”  he said.  “The Park Service will have to buy land,  clear land and  put a tower on an island that floods.  It’s going to cost.  The environmental impacts will be greater than from Plan B.  We’ve got  an endangered cactus species where  Route A would go.  Not many people know that.   There’s a crystal-clear native trout stream. The line will go over one of my campgrounds.  Nobody will want to camp there.  The Delaware Water Gap is the gateway to  the Delaware River recreational area.  It’s  going to look great  with power lines draped across it,” he said sarcastically.  “New Jersey needs power but it doesn’t want the lines.  It’s a waste of energy to run them so far from where the population need is.”

Mr. Jones suggested  that,  “[The power lines] should go where the people are — where more people will be using the power.  But they’ll fight that.”

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

*For more on Chesapeake, please read Breathing’s article,  “Chesapeake Energy and Penn State’s Robert Watson :  Who Are Those Guys?

EDITORIAL

Imagine a Neandrathal  stumbling upon a luscious piece of trail-kill 30,000 years ago  and debating  whether to share it with his hungry tribe or  eat it  himself.

Would survival of the fittest have trumped  his community’s needs?  Or would he have recognized  that food (like water) was  a Neandrathal utility — a resource essential to  the tribe’s survival  —  its consumption regulated with the common weal in mind?   Would Neandrathal society have  concocted some system of head thumps to ensure  that  fortunate ones shared with the hungry many?

Long-enshrined in our societal  understanding of survival  are two fundamental concepts that we treat with varying importance depending on the situation.

  • “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  (Our community prospers when it  fosters and defends  the rights and strengths of  its members.)
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you  — ask what you can do for your country.”   (The strength of our  community  depends on the responsible generosity of its members.)

Some of the wildest and most contentious cases in Supreme Court history have attempted to resolve conflicts between  individual rights and  the community’s expectation that its larger, more inclusive  interests will predominate.

In  the earliest days of our Republic, Eminent Domain was  recognized as a  tool  inherent to the Federal Government’s mandate to “defend and protect.”   For  the  “public good,”  soldiers were billeted in Colonial homes during the Revolution  but  seizure of  private lands for permanent use  was  onerous to most early Americans and the “public use” restriction in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause was strictly interpreted as a  protection against such seizures.

As  our population grew  and technology created a more mobile citizenry,  public works demanded more land for  roads, bridges and railroads.  In more recent years and in response to a landscape crammed full of skyscrapers, derricks, residential and shopping mall sprawl,  eminent domain has been used to protect open space for public enjoyment.   (The “public good” in this instance being protected  from the narrower interests of a few developers.)

Of particular interest to us in the Delaware River Basin is the  legal concept of  “inverse condemnation” which we hear with increasing frequency from  property holders demanding  they be compensated  when  regulations prohibit gas drilling on their properties.  According to a Fifth Amendment Annotation,** “While [the Fifth Amendment]  established that government may take private property, with compensation, to promote the public interest, that interest also may be served by regulation of property use….‘The distinguishing characteristic between eminent domain and the police power is that the former involves the taking of property because of its need for the public use while [police power] involves the regulation of such property to prevent the use thereof in a manner that is detrimental to the public interest.’ 251 But regulation may deprive an owner of most or all beneficial use of his property and may destroy the values of the property for the purposes to which it is suited. 252 The older cases flatly denied the possibility of compensation for this diminution of property values, 253 but the Court in 1922 established as a general principle that ‘if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.”’ 254

Later, in a 2002 case,  (Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency)  The U.S. Supreme Court found that, “Moratoria on all development in Lake Tahoe Basin area for a period totaling 32 months, imposed by a regional planning agency while formulating a land use plan for the area, were not per se takings of property requiring compensation under the Takings Clause.”

In a seemingly oblique but related development,  corporations attained “personhood”  when The U. S. Supreme Court stated in  Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith (1889) “…corporations are persons within the meaning of the [Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment]….    We admit also… that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the constitution and laws which guaranty [sic] to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.”   (Bold added for emphasis.)

As the trend toward  condemnation of privately held lands has become more usual,  eminent domain actions have increasingly benefited “corporate  persons” in the guise of  public interests.  This trend  occasioned public outrage in 2005,  when The Court ruled in   Kelo v. New London that  privately-held  property could be  seized by a government  and handed over to  a private corporation  for the public benefit —  while said corporation stood to reap a boatload of  profits.

I would never deny just compensation to landholders whose property is seized for the public good but as I write this,  Congress has just launched  an investigation into  gas drilling practices  and their  potential harm to the environment.   Perhaps we should await its findings before deciding that those practices are either legal or in the public interest, as NYS Senator Bonacic has contended.

In that context, NYS  Senator John  Bonacic, the Northern Wayne Property  Owners’ Association (NWPOA) and energy corporations  have  begun a campaign of hostage-taking.  In an  “Alice-Down-The-Rabbit-Hole” logical warp,  they have demanded that millions of people who depend on water from the Delaware River Basin and New York City Watershed pay  landholders NOT to risk  that water supply with a toxic soup of corporate fracking fluids.

“Bizarre-o!”  as my friend Amanda might say.  Or more elegantly,  I refer you to  Cliff Westfall’s analogy of a few days ago, “What if I decided to burn down the woods on my land, claiming it was the cheapest way to clear a field, with no concern for preventing its spread to my neighbor’s house?  Of course the government could regulate that. The bottom line is this: the government may prevent you from doing things on your property when those actions would harm public welfare.”   In further explanation of Mr. Westfall’s comparison,  please understand that  fracturing fluids  used in gas drilling are injected underground,  may travel as much as 6,000 feet and their  direction is neither predictable nor controllable…like a forest fire.

It is inconceivable  that Senator Bonacic and the NWPOA  truly believe that in our current economic crisis any governmental entity (or body of taxpayers) has the means to pay the ransom.  The national unemployment rate is blowing up in our faces.  Tax revenues are plummeting.  Small businesses are dying.  Our infrastructure is crumbling and our children are moving back home and forsaking dreams of college.  In the event NWPOA or some other organization of  lessors prevails in  a lawsuit demanding compensation for the value of their  mineral rights,  every taxpayer, student and worker who does not  benefit from gas royalties will lose.  And the sure winners?  Drilling companies who stand in the background ready to reap the  profits.

Given the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision which found in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission —  a la George Orwell’s  Animal Farm —  that some “persons”  and their lobbyists  “are more equal than others,” we should not doubt the risk faced by our water and our Republic.

And given the evolutionary demise of Neandrathal,  I can’t help but wonder if  he decided to eat the whole thing all by himself.

Urge the Delaware River Basin Commission and the US Congress  to  enact moratoria  on drilling. It’s for the “public good”  because,  as more and more people are beginning to remember,  “We cannot drink gas  nor grow our food with it.”

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

*   “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

**In general, compensation must be paid when a restriction on the use of property is so extensive that it is tantamount to confiscation of the property.

In the Mahon case, Justice Holmes for the Court, over Justice Brandeis’ vigorous dissent, held unconstitutional a state statute prohibiting subsurface mining in regions where it presented a danger of subsidence for homeowners. The homeowners had purchased by deeds which reserved to the coal companies ownership of subsurface mining rights and which held the companies harmless for damage caused by subsurface mining operations. The statute thus gave the homeowners more than they had been able to obtain through contracting, and at the same time deprived the coal companies of the entire value of their subsurface estates. The Court observed that ”[f]or practical purposes, the right to coal consists in the right to mine,” and that the statute, by making it ”commercially impracticable to mine certain coal,” had essentially ”the same effect for constitutional purposes as appropriating or destroying it.” 255 The regulation, therefore, in precluding the companies from exercising any mining rights whatever, went ”too far.” 256 However, when presented 65 years later with a very similar restriction on coal mining, the Court upheld it in Keystone Bituminous Coal Ass’n v. DeBenedictis. 257 Unlike its precursor, the Court explained, the newer law ”does not merely involve a balancing of the private economic interests of coal companies against the private interests of the surface owners.” 258 Instead, the state had identified ”important public interests” (e.g., conservation, protection of water supplies, preservation of land values for taxation) and had broadened the law to apply regardless of whether the surface and mineral estates were in separate ownership. A second factor distinguishing Keystone from Mahon, the Court explained, was the absence of proof that the new subsidence law made it ”commercially impracticable” for the coal companies to continue mining. 259 The Court rejected efforts to define separate segments of property for taking purposes–either the coal in place under protected structures, or the ”support estate” recognized under Pennsylvania law. 260 Economic impact is measured by reference to the property as a whole; consideration of the coal placed off limits to mining as merely part of a larger estate and not as a separate estate undermined the commercial impracticability argument.

In a case examining a Moratorium imposed on development in the Lake Tahoe area, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that a moratorium on development is not necessarily a taking, and that regulatory takings cases must be decided on a case-by-case basis rather than on categorical rules, Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302, 122 S. Ct. 1465, 152 L. Ed. 2d 517 (U.S., Apr 23, 2002) (NO. 00-1167).  …the Court held that because the regulation was temporary, it could not constitute a categorical taking.”

EDITORIAL

Imagine a Neandrathal  stumbling upon a luscious piece of trail-kill 30,000 years ago  and debating  whether to share it with his hungry tribe or  eat it  himself.

Would survival of the fittest have trumped  his community’s needs?  Or would he have recognized  that food (like water) was  a Neandrathal utility — a resource essential to  the tribe’s survival  —  its consumption regulated with the common weal in mind?   Would Neandrathal society have  concocted some system of head thumps to ensure  that  fortunate ones shared with the hungry many?

Long-enshrined in our societal  understanding of survival  are two fundamental concepts that we treat with varying importance depending on the situation.

  • “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  (Our community prospers when it  fosters and defends  the rights and strengths of  its members.)
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you  — ask what you can do for your country.”   (The strength of our  community  depends on the responsible generosity of its members.)

Some of the wildest and most contentious cases in Supreme Court history have attempted to resolve conflicts between  individual rights and  the community’s expectation that its larger, more inclusive  interests will predominate.

In  the earliest days of our Republic, Eminent Domain was  recognized as a  tool  inherent to the Federal Government’s mandate to “defend and protect.”   For  the  “public good,”  soldiers were billeted in Colonial homes during the Revolution  but  seizure of  private lands for permanent use  was  onerous to most early Americans and the “public use” restriction in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause was strictly interpreted as a  protection against such seizures.

As  our population grew  and technology created a more mobile citizenry,  public works demanded more land for  roads, bridges and railroads.  In more recent years and in response to a landscape crammed full of skyscrapers, derricks, residential and shopping mall sprawl,  eminent domain has been used to protect open space for public enjoyment.   (The “public good” in this instance being protected  from the narrower interests of a few developers.)

Of particular interest to us in the Delaware River Basin is the  legal concept of  “inverse condemnation” which we hear with increasing frequency from  property holders demanding  they be compensated  when  regulations prohibit gas drilling on their properties.  According to a Fifth Amendment Annotation,** “While [the Fifth Amendment]  established that government may take private property, with compensation, to promote the public interest, that interest also may be served by regulation of property use….‘The distinguishing characteristic between eminent domain and the police power is that the former involves the taking of property because of its need for the public use while [police power] involves the regulation of such property to prevent the use thereof in a manner that is detrimental to the public interest.’ 251 But regulation may deprive an owner of most or all beneficial use of his property and may destroy the values of the property for the purposes to which it is suited. 252 The older cases flatly denied the possibility of compensation for this diminution of property values, 253 but the Court in 1922 established as a general principle that ‘if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.”’ 254

Later, in a 2002 case,  (Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency)  The U.S. Supreme Court found that, “Moratoria on all development in Lake Tahoe Basin area for a period totaling 32 months, imposed by a regional planning agency while formulating a land use plan for the area, were not per se takings of property requiring compensation under the Takings Clause.”

In a seemingly oblique but related development,  corporations attained “personhood”  when The U. S. Supreme Court stated in  Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith (1889) “…corporations are persons within the meaning of the [Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment]….    We admit also… that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the constitution and laws which guaranty [sic] to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.”   (Bold added for emphasis.)

As the trend toward  condemnation of privately held lands has become more usual,  eminent domain actions have increasingly benefited “corporate  persons” in the guise of  public interests.  This trend  occasioned public outrage in 2005,  when The Court ruled in   Kelo v. New London that  privately-held  property could be  seized by a government  and handed over to  a private corporation  for the public benefit —  while said corporation stood to reap a boatload of  profits.

I would never deny just compensation to landholders whose property is seized for the public good but as I write this,  Congress has just launched  an investigation into  gas drilling practices  and their  potential harm to the environment.   Perhaps we should await its findings before deciding that those practices are either legal or in the public interest, as NYS Senator Bonacic has contended.

In that context, NYS  Senator John  Bonacic, the Northern Wayne Property  Owners’ Association (NWPOA) and energy corporations  have  begun a campaign of hostage-taking.  In an  “Alice-Down-The-Rabbit-Hole” logical warp,  they have demanded that millions of people who depend on water from the Delaware River Basin and New York City Watershed pay  landholders NOT to risk  that water supply with a toxic soup of corporate fracking fluids.

“Bizarre-o!”  as my friend Amanda might say.  Or more elegantly,  I refer you to  Cliff Westfall’s analogy of a few days ago, “What if I decided to burn down the woods on my land, claiming it was the cheapest way to clear a field, with no concern for preventing its spread to my neighbor’s house?  Of course the government could regulate that. The bottom line is this: the government may prevent you from doing things on your property when those actions would harm public welfare.”   In further explanation of Mr. Westfall’s comparison,  please understand that  fracturing fluids  used in gas drilling are injected underground,  may travel as much as 6,000 feet and their  direction is neither predictable nor controllable…like a forest fire.

It is inconceivable  that Senator Bonacic and the NWPOA  truly believe that in our current economic crisis any governmental entity (or body of taxpayers) has the means to pay the ransom.  The national unemployment rate is blowing up in our faces.  Tax revenues are plummeting.  Small businesses are dying.  Our infrastructure is crumbling and our children are moving back home and forsaking dreams of college.  In the event NWPOA or some other organization of  lessors prevails in  a lawsuit demanding compensation for the value of their  mineral rights,  every taxpayer, student and worker who does not  benefit from gas royalties will lose.  And the sure winners?  Drilling companies who stand in the background ready to reap the  profits.

Given the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision which found in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission —  a la George Orwell’s  Animal Farm —  that some “persons”  and their lobbyists  “are more equal than others,” we should not doubt the risk faced by our water and our Republic.

And given the evolutionary demise of Neandrathal,  I can’t help but wonder if  he decided to eat the whole thing all by himself.

Urge the Delaware River Basin Commission and the US Congress  to  enact moratoria  on drilling. It’s for the “public good”  because,  as more and more people are beginning to remember,  “We cannot drink gas  nor grow our food with it.”

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

*   “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

**In general, compensation must be paid when a restriction on the use of property is so extensive that it is tantamount to confiscation of the property.

In the Mahon case, Justice Holmes for the Court, over Justice Brandeis’ vigorous dissent, held unconstitutional a state statute prohibiting subsurface mining in regions where it presented a danger of subsidence for homeowners. The homeowners had purchased by deeds which reserved to the coal companies ownership of subsurface mining rights and which held the companies harmless for damage caused by subsurface mining operations. The statute thus gave the homeowners more than they had been able to obtain through contracting, and at the same time deprived the coal companies of the entire value of their subsurface estates. The Court observed that ”[f]or practical purposes, the right to coal consists in the right to mine,” and that the statute, by making it ”commercially impracticable to mine certain coal,” had essentially ”the same effect for constitutional purposes as appropriating or destroying it.” 255 The regulation, therefore, in precluding the companies from exercising any mining rights whatever, went ”too far.” 256 However, when presented 65 years later with a very similar restriction on coal mining, the Court upheld it in Keystone Bituminous Coal Ass’n v. DeBenedictis. 257 Unlike its precursor, the Court explained, the newer law ”does not merely involve a balancing of the private economic interests of coal companies against the private interests of the surface owners.” 258 Instead, the state had identified ”important public interests” (e.g., conservation, protection of water supplies, preservation of land values for taxation) and had broadened the law to apply regardless of whether the surface and mineral estates were in separate ownership. A second factor distinguishing Keystone from Mahon, the Court explained, was the absence of proof that the new subsidence law made it ”commercially impracticable” for the coal companies to continue mining. 259 The Court rejected efforts to define separate segments of property for taking purposes–either the coal in place under protected structures, or the ”support estate” recognized under Pennsylvania law. 260 Economic impact is measured by reference to the property as a whole; consideration of the coal placed off limits to mining as merely part of a larger estate and not as a separate estate undermined the commercial impracticability argument.

In a case examining a Moratorium imposed on development in the Lake Tahoe area, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that a moratorium on development is not necessarily a taking, and that regulatory takings cases must be decided on a case-by-case basis rather than on categorical rules, Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 535 U.S. 302, 122 S. Ct. 1465, 152 L. Ed. 2d 517 (U.S., Apr 23, 2002) (NO. 00-1167).  …the Court held that because the regulation was temporary, it could not constitute a categorical taking.”

 

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.)

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.)

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.

(This article derives, in part, from a September 23, 2009  WJFF Board of Trustees  meeting.   Under normal circumstances, it would have been  published  within 24 hours of the meeting.  Instead,  for  four days, I’ve fretted and edited.

WJFF  has touched each of us whether we know it or not.  Its in-depth interviews of local, national and international activists have broadened and influenced our local  debates about  casinos, dams,  flooding and the advent of hydraulic fracturing.  During the lead up to the Iraq Invasion,  while  other journalists cheered  the fear mongers,  we  listened to WJFF   and heard  85 year old  Robert Byrd  lead the filibuster against granting the President preemptive war powers.  In a shaky voice,  he outlined  the Constitutional limits of Presidential power and Congress’ obligations.  We had no doubt  the moment was historic and potent.

But WJFF’s contributions have  been individual and personal as well.  The kids, including my youngest son, who participated in The Station’s  Youth Radio Project will never forget the safe haven where their creative juices could erupt in wonderful and often unpredictable ways.

It has been, quite simply, an integral part of our evolution as a region.)

*    *    *    *    *

“In 1986, WJFF founders Malcolm Brown and Anne Larsen put an ad in some of the newspapers around Jeffersonville.  It asked if there were folks in the area that were interested in having a public radio station, and if so, would they come  to a meeting about it at the Lake Jefferson Hotel.  This was the beginning of WJFF.   Station lore has the number of people who came to that initial meeting growing and growing.  (It’s up to over a hundred by now) but in actuality, somewhere between 40 and 50 people arrived at the Lake Jefferson Hotel that first night.  But hundreds of community members were involved from that day forward in getting  the station on the air February 12, 1990….”  (WJFF  “Soundings”  newsletter, 2005 retrospective.)

Twenty-three years later, on September 17, 2009, the following  email was forwarded  by a friend who has no  station-affiliation, “There have been internal issues that the volunteers, the Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Board of Trustees  (BOT) of our community radio Station, WJFF, have not been able to iron out.”  The writer then asked community supporters of  WJFF to attend the Board of Trustee’s meeting on September 23rd.

Regular listeners of WJFF  knew that Walter Keller,  host of  First Class Classicals (one of the station’s longest running shows)  and his production assistant,  Bill Jumper, had been either “fired,”  “suspended,” or  “dismissed”  after their August 29, 2009 show.  (In fact,  Mr.  Jumper resigned.)

In a letter to Community Advisory Board (CAB) member, Matt Frumess,  WJFF’s Board of Trustees President, Steve Van Benschoten wrote,   “…the two volunteers had “[violated] one of the cardinal rules of the station.  On page 9 of the volunteer manual,” he stated,  “you will find this injunciton:  ‘Volunteers may not use WJFF airwaves, events, listserve or links to discuss station politics.’   The rule is there to prevent an on-air person from using their program as a bully pulpit to present their case…. We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

Furthermore, Mr. Van Benschoten explained,  Walter and Bill had  run afoul of  WJFF-procedure,  “We have a process in place at the station for grievances to be mediated.  If a programmer feels that the Program Committee is wrong in their assessment of his  or her performance, they can take the matter up with the Board of Trustees (BOT), bringing supporters and arguments to bear on their side of the isue.  Instead, Walter and Bill chose to seize an opportunity on-air, in violation of station rules, to thumb their noses at the procedures WJFF has set in place to establish a rule of fairness and justice.  We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

(Breathing note:  Not only is the Program Committee appointed by the BOT, but   WJFF’s new 2008  “conflict resolution policy”  describes  the grievance process  somewhat differently,  “Volunteers who feel they have been treated unfairly in mediated dispute or who feel unjustly accused of violation of WJFF regulations may present their case to the Board of Trustees provided that…They submit their argument in writing to the Board of Trustees.  The Board may or may not decide to hear from the complainant or complainants in person.“)  (I was unable to find this document online for linking purposes.)

During the Board of Trustees meeting on September 23, 2009 and in subsequent emails, several volunteers disputed Mr. Van Benschoten’s   contention that a  forum exists where  the public, volunteers and station management can openly discuss their differences. Others  expressed a need for change in the way Trustees,  the Station Manager and members of the various boards are selected or appointed.  “It’s in-grown and self-perpetuating,”  one volunteer said and several echoed.

According to the station’s by-laws, most members of  The Board of Trustees are appointed by currently-serving Trustees and  no more than three Trustees are elected  by the active volunteers at the station.

Further,  The Board of Trustees determines the number of Trustee vacancies to be filled during any given election  cycle, appoints members to standing committees, approves  the Community Advisory Board and hires  the Station Manager.

“I don’t know what we can do,” wrote one volunteer after the  BOT  meeting where  she was not afforded an opportunity to speak.  “I want to try and work through the differences in a diplomatic fashion, but we are not even being allowed a forum…can’t talk on the list serve, can’t talk via email….  It’s a scary situation….Winston [Station Manager] and Steve can argue that we were there to discuss a ‘personnel’ issue (which isn’t always open to discussion), but they both knew through my emails that I had other concerns – lack of communication, lack of leadership, the feel of the station changing etc.  Walter and Bill are the underlying symptom of a much deeper problem….I do know that there are people who have stopped listening.   This is not due to the Walter/Bill issue but the fact that we are sounding too homogenized – where are all the community voices?”

*   *   *   *   *

So what did Walter and Bill  say on-air during First Class Classicals  that simply could not be borne by station management?

Walter led off  by referring to a recent change he’d made in deference to the Programming Committee:    “We don’t have the international weather.”

Bill Jumper:  We’re going to change a lot of things at First Class Classicals because this program has come under some pretty serious criticism from the WJFF Programming Committee.   They are saying that the paramount concern is  the audience so what we would like to do is ask our listeners out there… to ask you to let us know what you think of the aspects of the program as we’ve been doing it.  And, if we have some  good reports  for the programming committee  we would like to have  some of those to do…  otherwise  you’ll  see some probably pretty signifcant changes here at  First Class Classicals  here on WJFF.

Walter:  Thanks, Bill.

Bill Jumper:  Please participate. Please send in your cards and letters.  Please call the station and let them know what you think of  First Class Classicals.

Walter:  Thank you, Bill.   What is the number  on the voice box for people to call?

Bill Jumper:    There is no  voicebox anymore.

Walter:  Oh.  There’s no more voicebox?  (Gives WJFF’s  phone and address information.)

Walter:   I will say this… that each of us individually and collectively  have  had very positive feedback  about how the show begins.

Bill Jumper:  We have had some but  we just need more of our listeners to participate.  To let the station manager know what you think about this program.  Because you are  our first concern.   It’s why we are all here.  We aren’t doing this for the station manager or the  programming committee, so please give us a response and let us know if we’re pleasing you.  If we’re not, by all means we will change anything you’d like us to change   This program has been singled out for some very severe criticism, in my opinion by the program committee.

Walter:  I will second that…

Then, at the top of the next hour,  Bill  said,  “We just wanted to remind you that we need your support.  We’ve received some information from the Programming Committee that they want to substantially change some of the thngs we do here at First Class Classicals.  And so we would like your input and, as is true of us too,   the paramount concern is you the listeners  so please give us your support.  (Provides station contact information.)

(Breathing note:  During fund drives, this kind of conversation occurs on  most of  The Station’s on-air shows.  In the midst of  WAMC  fund drives,  personnel frequently allude to  bean-counters, program decisions  and hatchets,  “So now’s the time, if you want to keep this program,  you have to step up,”  or words to that effect.)

*   *   *   *   *

In  response to Walter’s  suspension and Bill Jumper’s resignation,  CAB member, Matt Frumess wrote,  “At the last regular CAB meeting…,  Walter Keller read a directive from the Programming committee… [which] included… some specific things involving the content of his show.  These things included shortening his international  weather segment and instructions to begin playing music as soon  as the local weather was done.  Frankly, Walter was less perturbed by these items than were many members of our board.

“The meeting ended after several of us expressed our concern about the station management micro-managing our station’s shows and, in general, meddling with the content of ongoing shows….All of us who listened to Bill’s short requests were surprised by  how innocuous they were.  We had all expected to hear some sort of tirade….By this time, word had gotten out that Walter’s show had been cancelled and emails and listserve entries hit the fan;  nearly all respondents were appalled by the heavy-handed behavior of the station management.”

Mr.  Frumess then laid out  four conclusions reached  unanimously by  the CAB:

  • “that Walter and Bill be reinstated immediately…  We feel that….there was nothing said that was so egregious that it should have elicited the immediate and inappropriate reaction it did.
  • that  given the extraordinary contributions made to the station by both Walter and Bill, the heavy-handed manner in which they were treated sends a dangerous message to all the current and prospective  volunteers at the station… As the CAB, representing a devoted listening audience, we expect the station management to maintain its community orientation and ts commitment to diversity, free speech and fair play
  • globally, that the recent behavior of the station management is being seen as a threat…to the integrity of WJFF as we know it….diversity requires freedom for  programmers and staff to express themselves as they see fit…unless they stray dramatically from the shows original proposed content or violate the law or specific station standards…
  • that the removal of the voicebox call-in line was inadvisable and should be restored.  The station needs a safe harbor mechanism for listeners to call….With our  mission to  serve a broad-based community, we need any source of feedback we can get.”

(Breathing note:  Walter Keller and BOT President, Steve Van Benschoten both attended the CAB meeting described here by Mr. Frumess.  Mr. Van Benschoten  was  aware that  Walter had  agreed to the Programming Committee’s recommendations and had begun to implement  them.  Nonetheless  —  and without making his intention clear at the CAB meeting  —   the Station Manager was directed to call Walter the next morning  and inform him [after nearly 20 years on  air] “that he and Bill Jumper were indefinitely suspended for violating station policy.”)

*   *   *   *   *

In a letter written after the September 23rd  BOT meeting where Walter’s suspension was discussed in Executive Session,  Mr. Van Benschoten wrote,  “I’m pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees’ voted to reinstate Walter Keller to the airwaves and that Walter has agreed to the conditions… I also want to inform the volunteers that the Board of Trustees has accepted Bill Jumper’s verbal resignation from the station, and (as he requested) a written acceptance of his resignation has been sent to his home.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.”  (Breathing note:  If you want to receive  meeting notices, you can sign up for the WJFF newsletter.)

*   *   *   *   *

Breathing opinion:  WJFF  must be cherished  as a valuable community resource.  Its capacity for a full-breadth of discussions  cannot be lost to us in a time when its service area faces the challenges of hydraulic fracturing,  multiple casino developments, increased job losses  and failing revenue streams.  It would be helpful to have WJFF’s alphabet soup of  committees,   volunteers and  concerned members of the public convene  in “town hall”   venues throughout the listening area.  The community of current listeners, those who’ve drifted away and those who haven’t  found 90.5  yet, must be given an opportunity to  help formulate the way forward.

Hopefully, the  currently in-grown system which has

  • Trustees appointing themselves and standing committee members
  • approving CAB’s members and chairperson  while also
  • hiring and tactically directing the duties of  the Station Manager

will be replaced by a  more inclusive,  elective process.

Since its inception, WJFF has reflected  the rough-hewn, down-to-earth flavor of  the village streets and sharp winters where it lives.   Despite some of those villages being more gentrified   than they were twenty three years ago, we’ve  learned through hard times that no set of hands is less than another and that all voices and visions must be actively sought.  Otherwise, we face a future  scored  by the divisiveness of  “them and us.”  Given WJFF’s legacy to us — that  a strong community can build anything it conceives —  such an outcome would be a terrible waste.

As would forgetting this phrase from WJFF’s  Mission Statement,  “Radio Catskill… aims to involve the community in preserving and transmitting its own cultural heritage and artistic expressions….”

To paraphrase a question raised by one volunteer after the  BOT meeting was cut short, “How does replacing  Walter’s homegrown First Class Classicals with  a canned program sponsored by British Petroleum (BP) involve or preserve the   ‘community’?”    We’re a  (*%@$%*^@!)-ing hydro-powered radio station!”

A highly-charged debate about hydraulic fracturing is taking place in WJFF’s listening community. British Petroleum will receive 32.5% of  revenues generated by Chesapeake hydraulically fracturing the Marcellus Shale.  For the BOT or Programming Committee to say, “You can’t blame us; canned programs come with sponsorship embedded,”  is, politely-speaking, insufficient.  Please see an earlier Breathing article, “Tom Paxton’s  We Didn’t Know.”

(Addendum to “Gas Drilling Reps  Grilled in Sullivan County.”   Feeling out of the loop?  Didn’t know about  the meeting in Rock Hill?  Don’t feel bad. Supervisors James Scheutzow and Linda Babicz were there and they  echoed a pervasive complaint from other attendees about how  little advertising preceded the meeting, “We have flooding problems. We have revenue questions.  We need to know what’s going on.”)

*******


On September 6, 2009, the afternoon of The Light Up The Delaware River Party, a few of us were  watching the Big Eddy Regatta from the Narrowsburg Bridge.  We had Martin Springetti’s “Don’t Frak/Drain Our River” posters and were taking a break from showing them off to passing cars.

“Has anyone heard from  Hancock?”   Nope.

“Philadelphia?”  I shook my head.   “No cell service.”

I scooted into the Cafe bathroom to hold my head;  nobody else needed to know  I was  flipping out. What had I done?  What was I thinking?  How could I hang us all so far out on a limb and not even know whether people were actually gathering in our other river towns?  “This is why my children warn strangers about me,”  I thought.

Before our Granny-something road trip, Leni and I were brand new friends.  We’d known of each other for years, but before we climbed into the car and headed for Philadelphia, we’d  spent very little time in one another’s company.  How deluded were we  to spend three days in a car  —  on a mission  akin to searching for Shangrila — trying to speak with people who  knew little or nothing about hydraulic fracturing  — to invite  them to a 330-mile River Basin Party?

The bathroom walls were closing in.  I couldn’t breathe.

It was very like the night before we  left for Philadelphia.   I’d  sent a desperate plea  from Breathing: we needed a  Light Up The Delaware River Party  website or else the  people we met along the road wouldn’t  take us seriously.  Panic had started to set  in.

The next morning, as we headed out the door,  Tanyette Colon emailed to say she’d just sent the new  Light Up The Delaware River site live.  I was speechless.  Our few conversations had  been via email and yet,  she’d  worked into the wee hours  for the sake of an idea.

Leni and I had a silent agreement not to  think or talk much about the things that could go wrong.  We didn’t worry about disappearing like Amelia Earhart.  We didn’t think about people slamming doors in our faces.  We were leaping into a great well of faith:   people would understand  the threat  of hydraulic fracturing and our urgency  if we could just look them in the eye.

For the sake of an idea,  Mark Barbash invited us  — two complete strangers — into his home and drove us all over Philadelphia.   Nancy Janyszeski opened her study (a thoroughly impressive  place, btw) and showed us that The Party was already displayed prominently at Nockamixon.us. When Leni & I returned from a fracking pond site,  Nancy  and her husband gave us towels,  sent us off to use their bathroom and invited us to spend the night.

When there were no motel rooms from Matamoras, PA to BethelWoods because it was the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock,  three bikers invited us to share their room when they learned what we were doing.  (Although we didn’t take them up on their generosity, it warmed our hearts and thirty  years earlier neither of us would have hesitated.)

It was like that the entire 330 miles:  people read the invitation,  snatched the idea and began hatching plans for Parties in their towns.  When we got home,  our inboxes were  filled with plans  from Nockamixon to Damascus.

The next  three days were spent hunched over the computer searching for national, state and local environmental groups and harvesting email addresses.  By the end, over 200 groups and many more individuals knew The Delaware River Basin was on the move.

Fred Pecora — who’s spent the last two years writing letters, doing interviews and researching, researching, researching  —  heard Leni on WJFF and called  WBAI so the Party and its message  could start percolating  in New York City.

Emails arrived  from the Wyoming front lines.  They were watching and hoping.  Some of my high school buddies  near fracking sites in Ohio taped the WBAI interview  and cheered us on.

In the Upper Basin,  the  media was told to meet us  in Narrowsburg.  It wasn’t until the afternoon  of  the Party that I  realized nobody had organized a  Light Up  event  in Narrowsburg.  At 6:45 pm,  fifteen minutes before we were to begin pouring water into the River,  Bernie  Handler* wondered if we had any.  OMG!  Only a very few people  would be able to negotiate the steep bank from the Gazebo to the River.  All I could think as I grabbed containers and headed down over the rocks was,  “Please don’t let me fall in!”

Moments later, none of it  mattered.  Nearly 300 people had arrived.   Janet Burgan’s  rich,  sure anthems blended with  the dusk and as we munched Dan Brinkerhof’s old-fashioned popcorn,  Skip Mendler juggled and made us laugh.

Below us, the River darkened  and at 7:00, we poured our borrowed water back into it.  At 7:30, as a few small  boats lit up, candles  were set out along the Bridge.   The light  spread in an oval to the crowd around the Gazebo  and to the boatmen beyond.   (Later that evening, as  photos and stories began to arrive via email, we learned it had spread from Starlight, PA to Hancock,  Fremont, Long Eddy, Equinunk,  Callicoon,  Damascus-Cochecton, Milanville, Narrowsburg, Pond Eddy, Milford-Shohola,   Washington’s Crossing, Bridgetown,  Dunfield Creek and Philadelphia.

In the sky above us, Dan Desmond piloted his plane with Ted Waddell in the passenger seat snapping photo after photo —  recording a  single moment in the 400 million-year history of the River.

Along with the pictures, have come words, some of which I’ve included here:

From Nyssa Calkin –  Light Up’s Roving Photographer: “I came across some private and semi-private parties in the Equinunk and Long Eddy areas.    At one location… The entire group broke out into spur of the moment River songs.  Very moving.  Most of the images I took were of the bustling river life throughout the day.”

From Washington’s Crossing: “Wanted you to know we were there with our ‘pure water’  and lights on the NJ side…. My dog likes to clean branches out of the water, or maybe he thinks he is saving them from drowning.  Anyway, he did it while we had our candles lit.  He always tosses his head, though, so we got splattered with mud.  Pretty funny.”

From the Narrowsburg Regatta: “We read poetry, held a regatta, carried signs, barbecued, sang songs, saw puppets, poured water, lit candles, ate popcorn, watched movies…!”

From Hancock: Just wanted to let you know our party was quite successful — except we never saw the plane!  (Editor’s Note:  This was entirely my fault and something that needs much better planning for the 2nd Annual Light Up The Delaware River Party!)

We had between 50 and 60 people…and we did connect with the campers who had posted the other Hancock event.  They joined us,  and at the appropriate hour floated their beautiful, candle-carrying minature rafts from our candle-lit beach.

Thank you so much for all your efforts in creating this! The river was incredibly serene and gorgeous at dusk as we poured our cups of water and lit our candles. Laurie  of the CDOG (Chenango-Delaware-Otsego Gas) group spoke eloquently about the river and our mission to preserve water and land.  Lisa, an organic farmer, activist and poet, read two of her own poems inspired by the gas drilling threat.

We were thrilled that quite a few townspeople who had seen notices about the party joined those of us who are already committed.  We enjoyed live music…and recorded music…and lots of conversation and information sharing (even dancing!!).  It was a fun, inspiring occasion, and I think we all left feeling more connected to the river, one another, and our intentions to preserve the beauty and health of our environment.   How did the other parties go?

From Matamoras: I was at a private party earlier on Sunday just up the River in Matamoras and I will try to get some photos from that.

It would certainly be great to make this an annual event on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend sort of a Delaware River Appreciation Day (DRAD) something I believe would receive much support up and down the River. A little appreciation for all the River provides, including a source of clean drinking water and the many recreational opportunities from its source to the bay.

Great job by everyone…the River Thanks You All!

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

As I stared from the Bridge into  the heart of it all —   inexpressible joy mixed with sorrow.

Only a part of my community had come  to the River.  The farmers  I’d worked beside  were absent.  They’d sold their cows and land  or been foreclosed years before — but there are memories that bind people forever:  pulling a calf from a straining cow in a warm barn as a spring snowstorm howls outside;  the sound of a tractor rolling backward down a  hill and pinning a man beneath it;  the calluses at the base of our fingers from tossing bales and hauling shingles and sheetrock.

Many of  the people I’ve worked beside didn’t  come  to The Party  because they’ve already moved  from the  land their families tilled for a century or more.  Some were absent because,  after long weeks of painful weighing, they’d signed leases.  They weren’t sure if the Party was for them, too.  Some weren’t with us because they’re angry at us — believing that our defense of the River signifies  a willful disregard for what  gentrification, the economic downturn,  factory farms and the loss of industrial jobs have done to them and their children.  Some believe that our stance  as defenders of the  water and land is a denigration of  their long years of stewardship.

Every ten years or so during the thirty that  I’ve lived in Sullivan County, NY,  a wave of “newcomers” has arrived  in the Basin  because something  feels  “wrong”  or  “out-of balance”  in their lives.  Some  of them weather the storms and stay.  Many maintain two residences.  Too often  —  to the jaded eye of those who’ve  seen it all before and who struggle to pay one mortgage or rent — those second homes look like  get-away options in case things go sour.  Too often to recount,  many newcomers discover how  hard it is to live here…to raise a family here…to pay the mortgage here…. and after   they’ve  used their greater resources to rent Main Street shops and  charge prices many “locals”  can’t afford,  they  move away.  Those  whose families have worked and lived in the Basin for  centuries and who  rarely have a wealth of choices,  watch them go,  their communities upended in the wake.

But what of  those,  like myself,  who’ve  stayed?  They were all around me on the Bridge or chatting  in front of Dan Brinkerhoff’s Amazing Mobile Movie Theater Truck  waiting for the film to begin.  I saw farmers who work dawn to midnight creating community sustainable agriculture and  librarians who supervise after-school programs.  There were teachers who share their skills in our literacy centers and community programs, carpenters, artists, weavers & spinners, labor organizers,  shopkeepers, nurses, writers, construction workers, house cleaners  —  all of them working with every fiber to stay;  to lend their vigor to an old world and its traditions.

Just as some old-timers  fear that  gentrification will leave them behind,   their neighbors who  gathered along the River from Hancock to Philadelphia also fear abandonment. They watch the River through exhausted, angry and frightened eyes and  see   the specter of  gas companies descending like  locusts, despoiling our Basin and leaving us to clean up or give up.

No matter on which side of the issue we stand,  it’s not enough to say, “You can’t talk to those people.  They’re selfish/greedy/arrogant/ignorant/dilettantes.”  How does it benefit the River for us to squabble over who the “true stewards of the land”  are  —  especially when livelihoods, college educations, farms & family  businesses, land  and water are all at stake?   To paraphrase the President,   diplomacy isn’t for people who agree with each other;  it’s for those  locked in conflict.

Those of us who’ve been here long enough, remember the hate-filled  words that led to acts of violence  during the  NPS war and the twenty year embroglio over  school consolidation.  Perhaps the vile odors  of a house and barn burning  have left us unreasonably anxious  when  the same ugly words and frustrated rage surface  today.

Or perhaps, we’re struggling to learn from our past.

We hear  that a movie’s being planned  about the gas strife here in the Basin.  Let’s give them a truly different story to tell — one in which we find ways to preserve the things we love in common.

Incredible  amounts of good have come from the Party already.  A friend who just signed a lease has asked that we join forces to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act and a severance tax on the gas industry. As I mentioned yesterday,  a column will always be available to her here at Breathing. (More on that after September 20th.)  River communities throughout the Basin have renewed our joint commitment to preserve and protect and we are in daily contact.  Several people who saw Josh Fox’  film, “Water Under Attack,”  were in Rock Hill two days later demanding answers of  gas drilling representatives  (IOGA-NY).  Efforts are being renewed to create a national database of groups engaged in struggles akin to our own.  Ideas for internet videos  and guerilla theater are free-floating everywhere.  Meetings are being held by phone and  over the internet to discuss a possible Basin summit.  And integral to everything is this question,  “How do we save the Basin for all of us?”

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*I’ve already nominated Bernie Handler for The Prince Valiant-Iron Man  Award.  Not only did he save me from looking  like a total ditz, he also rescued Kalika and her  kayak during the afternoon  Regatta.)

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Note to readers:  Breathing Is Political, CottageWorks and Light Up The Delaware River Party! locked me in a family meeting last night.  They kept their promise to let me plan The Light Up  Party without nagging,  but now they need me to find a job.  So for their sake, and mine,  if you know  of a community-vested enterprise that’s  looking for a nurse-paralegal with a writing demon and native  organizing skills enhanced by sheer dumb luck, please let me know.

Best hopes for us all,

Liz

According to this announcement  received via email,   “The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York invites you to attend the following public information sessions beginning Thursday, September 3, 2009 to present facts and updates regarding natural gas exploration in your region. Other dates and locations: 9-8-09: Bernie’s Restaurant, Rock Hill.   9-10-09. SUNY Oneonta, Hunt Union.   10-1-09. Morrisville State College Theatre. Morrisville, NY.”  (Please visit the CottageWorks Community Calendar for event details.)

Interestingly, these meetings are being billed as informational sessions.  At an alternative website for The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York,  the Association makes clear their intent in organizing these events,  “Thank you for visiting MarcellusFacts.com – your source for information about the benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale…”

These events are being organized in New York State on the heels of Governor Paterson’s announcement that exploitation of the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale in New York State is part of his energy plan.  Yesterday’s Times Herald Record published a story entitled, “Gas Companies Prepare to Drill in Sullivan.”

Steve Israel’s article tells us who The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York  is, what they have planned for New York State, and more particularly, Sullivan County.  “After delaying drilling of the gas-rich shale beneath Sullivan for much of the year, the industry is ready to resume leasing land once the state’s new environmental standards are released, perhaps as early as next month. Drilling of the Marcellus shale could start in the spring.”

“We’ll do it and we’re looking to do it, once the regulatory hurdles are cleared. Then the permits will flow,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.”

Recently, 2,000 pro-drilling advocates rallied in New York with the mantra of “Drill, baby, drill.”

I will be attending the  9-8-09 “session” at Bernie’s Restaurant in Rock Hill, NY  and hope to see you there, too.