Last month two towns to the west of me, Van Etten and Spencer, NY passed resolutions stating that the towns supported gas drilling. Van Etten’s resolution was simple – a single sentence stating that the town has “decided to allow gas drilling in the Town of Van Etten.” Spencer’s is lengthier, commending the state’s leadership in developing a “comprehensive” statewide drilling program, stating their confidence in the state’s development of “safe” and “responsible” gas development, and all but promising to ignore any citizen petitions for moratoria or bans.
It is, word for word, the same resolution that will be considered by our town board at their next meeting on June 12. It’s already on the agenda: “Review/approve Planning Board recommendation on a resolution supporting natural gas development in the Town of Candor”. But, unlike previous resolutions, this one has not been posted for citizens to read prior to the meeting.
Last month our town supervisor, Bob Riggs received an email from the Tioga County Landowners Group urging the town to adopt the “pro-drilling” resolution.
The thing is, Riggs said in a phone interview Monday morning, while he feels that the board is mostly pro-drilling, he thinks this resolution is being rushed. The driving force, he says, is a news article in which Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens was quoted as saying that local land-use rules will “continue to be a consideration” in the permitting process for gas drilling.
Riggs admitted that the only ones who contacted him about considering the resolution were the head of the landowner’s group and another individual who doesn’t live in the town.
When asked whether the town is ready for drilling, Riggs noted that Candor does have a road use agreement and that the planning board has been reviewing a wellhead protection plan for the village. But the town has not yet completed a checklist of actions that will help prepare for industrialized drilling. That checklist comes from TING, a non-partisan county taskforce that developed a thick binder of information meant to guide towns through actions that will protect the town’s infrastructure and environment once drilling commences.
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Neither has the town determined whether drilling is compatible with the Town Comprehensive Plan. That plan seeks to preserve the rural character of Candor, encourage small business and light industry, and maintain or improve property values – goals that conflict with large-scale industrialized shale gas drilling.
A few towns to the west, another town council is considering the same resolution. Theirs came in a thick envelope from Southern Tier Economic Growth, a Chemung county economic council that in 2011 received close to 75% of its funding from taxpayer dollars. And yes, the resolution was, word for word, identical to the one that Candor is considering; that Spencer passed; that went out to every town in Steuben county.
A council member in one of the Chemung county towns currently considering the resolution speculates that this resolution as a response to the growing movement to ban drilling. Towns don’t want to become embroiled in lawsuits by landowners angry that they can’t lease their land. On the other hand, he said, “if it can be proven that this resolution encourages drilling to come into a town, and if problems result, then towns could be sued for that. This resolution opens towns up to more lawsuits than if we do nothing.”
The other problem he sees is that people voting on this resolution have a vested interest in seeing drilling happen in their town. “Elected officials who have leases should not be voting for this kind of resolution,” he said. “Indeed, they should recuse themselves from voting on any of these issues where they have a financial stake in the outcome.”