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.
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 officials. Section 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 county: “Our 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.
*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.”