When you kick a hornet’s nest, you rile up the hornets. That’s what Town of Caroline councilman Peter Hoyt told listeners of WCHU during a Wednesday morning radio interview. The night before he and the other four members of the Town Board listened to residents express concern over a proposed resolution for two hours.
Tuesday night, June 14 close to 250 residents from Caroline and neighboring communities squeezed into the Brooktondale Community Center. What brought them there, on an evening when they could have been weeding the tomatoes? A proposed town resolution stating that the town would “not attempt to either encourage or limit gas drilling in the Town of Caroline”.
Before the meeting a small crowd gathered, carrying signs reading “No ban on bans!” and “Don’t Frack with Democracy”.
“I’m here to support democracy,” said Laurie Roe. She holds a sign that says “Democracy means listening to your neighbors”. Roe fears that the council’s resolution has the potential to silence citizens and quash local democracy.
Sara Hess says, “I’m here to protect my water.” An Ithaca resident, she lives downstream from Caroline and gets her drinking water from Six Mile Creek – which is where runoff and streams in Caroline eventually end up.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the circular drive the Tompkins County Landowners coalition set up an information table stacked with handouts on what to look for in a lease.
The town council set aside a couple hours to listen to constituent concerns, but with 46 names on the speaking list and people standing three deep at the back, it was clear that the meeting would go longer than originally scheduled. Indeed, the council allowed everyone to speak, ending the meeting at 10:30. Despite many requests to withdraw the proposed resolution, the council tabled it until the July meeting.
Bill Podulka, chairman of ROUSE (Residents Opposing Unsafe Shale-Gas Extraction) called for the council to withdraw the resolution because it is premature and stifles democracy. “We ask that our town board listen to the people with open ears,” he said, referring to a petition that his group plans to present in a couple weeks.
During the evening a number of speakers expressed concern about ethics violations and conflict of interest. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision Monday, they suggested that town councilors with oil and gas leases recuse themselves from voting on the resolution.
“I’m concerned that some people could take away the rights of landowners,” said councilman Peter Hoyt who co-authored the questionable resolution. He admitted that he leased his land – “it’s only 15 acres, and it wasn’t much money,” he said in a phone interview the night before. “Just $3,000 – and they can’t even drill on my land.” Hoyt’s lease prohibits surface activities.
It’s not the amount that has folks all a-twitter. It’s the principle of the thing. People want assurance that their elected representatives are not financially beholden to corporate interests.