Monday, November 16, 2015

Can You Hear the People Speak?

The people of Candor value their small town atmosphere. On a sunny day you can walk around the Village in less than an hour – including pauses to enjoy the views of the river, listen to birds, or stop by the farmer’s market to buy locally grown produce and locally crafted wares. It’s the sort of town where “children are cherished and raised to be good citizens, where businesses are responsible to their neighborhoods, where government is responsive to its citizenry and where neighbors strive to maintain the civility that a rural life requires.”

It is the sort of town that seeks to balance a “logical and efficient use” of natural resources with the desire to protect open space, historical sites, agricultural soils, and the aquifer which supplies everyone with fresh water.

At least it was until last week. On November 10 the town board voted to radically change wording of the proposed update to the Town Comprehensive Plan, the document that will guide development for the next decade or so. Prior to the board meeting, town supervisor Bob Riggs called the chairman of the planning board Art Cacciola into his office and insisted that language in the comprehensive plan be changed to specifically include development of oil and gas resources and, in particular, express support for the technology of fracking.

Cacciola explained that the plan needs to be generic and not that specific, as no one knows what technology will be available in the future. He also explained that the plan did not specifically name any natural resources, as advised by the Executive Director of the NY Planning Federation. Furthermore, Cacciola said, “the Executive Director said we should not include anything in the plan which is currently illegal, such as fracking.”

Apparently the town supervisor is as immune to common sense and sound advice as he is to comments from the public. That evening, after inserting his own language into the Comprehensive Plan, Riggs asked the town board to approve the newer, frackier version supporting gas extraction. [He also told Cacciola that he’d no longer be chairman of the planning board and asked for his resignation. Cacciola declined and intends to serve out his term.]

Later in the evening Riggs used the new, fracked-up version of the Comprehensive Plan to justify approval of a resolution supporting the industrialized drilling and LPG fracking of a well in the town of Barton.

Just as happened at the October town board meeting, a majority of the people who showed up to comment were against the gas-fracking resolution. “It was clear that the public comments were just for show,” said one person (who asked not to be identified). “They knew they were going to vote for the resolution.”

“My biggest concern,” said the Candor resident, “is the vast amount of scientific evidence that this activity (industrialized gas drilling and fracking) is dangerous to human health and the environment. Our town board is not seriously considering that evidence. I feel that we’re being railroaded by people who have made up their minds and are not willing to look at new research.”

And herein lies the problem. Many of those who spoke against the fracking resolution are the same age as the children of the town board members. They are the young people who are buying homes and farms in town, who are coming back to raise families of their own. They want a safe, healthy place for their children to grow up, like the town they knew. And no one is listening to them.

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