Apr 23, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
At the conclusion of a standing-room-only public hearing concerning the town’s proposed law to amend the zoning law to regulate hydrofracking, the board — with two members absent — voted to table the law until the next meeting, to the disappointment of the crowd.
“I know you all came out this evening [for the vote],” said Town Supervisor Terri Roney to the approximately 50 assembled residents in the town hall meeting room, but “I recommend we table the vote until the May 3 meeting so everyone can participate. This is the biggest issue our board has faced since we’ve all been here and I think everyone should be here to participate.”
The reference was to absent council members Rick Keyes, who was out of the country on business, and Nancy Murray, who was absent due to family issue.
Council members Jim Greenfield and Steve McGlynn agreed with Roney that all five board members should be present for the vote.
At issue was Introductory Local Law 2012-A, “A local law to amend and supplement the zoning law of the Town of Skaneateles relative to certain uses and variance requirements of 2012.” The proposed law, succinctly, would prohibit any new natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production wastes within the town limits; it also would allow these practices to go forward on any such pre-existing activities, however, those activities must conform to a stringent list of regulations also laid out in the proposed law.
Any allowable natural gas or petroleum wells that become depleted and remain so for more than 12 months will be terminated and all further activities prohibited, under the proposed law.
The town code enforcement officer, planning board and zoning board of appeals, as well as the Onondaga County Planning Board, Skaneateles village officials and surrounding towns all have reviewed the proposed law and found no “adverse impacts” to the community in the language, Roney said.
More than one dozen local residents spoke out at the public hearing in favor of the town board passing the proposed law, while two residents spoke in opposition. Roney limited public comments to two minutes each due to the size of the crowd.
The comments in favor of the proposed law were all similar: they thanked the board for its work in fighting against hydfrofracking, they warned of the environmental hazards of gas drilling, they voiced concern to preserve the bucolic character of Skaneateles and many said the technology for drilling is not yet ready to safely carry out the process to harvest the admittedly valuable gas.
“The quality of life in this community is its most important asset,” said Holly Gregg, local resident and chair of the Citizens to Preserve the Character of Skaneateles. “We applaud this law and thank you.”
Skaneateles resident Connie Brace told people to think of the issue of trucking hydrofracking would impose on the town. “We spent all this time to get trucks out of this town, and this will bring them back in,” she said.
Resident Julie Sharpe, citing the environmental hazards of hydrofracking and the beauty of Skaneateles and its lake, said, “If we don’t defend our gift from God, who will?”
Michael Gorr, from Niles, told the town board that other towns in the area are waiting to see what Skaneateles does to oppose hydrofracking, that the board’s decision would ultimately affect all the surrounding communities.
“They are waiting to see what happens here,” he said.
For the first time in at least a year, two attendees spoke out in opposition of the town’s proposed prohibitions against gas drilling.
Skaneateles resident Jim Condon said the although he is against hydrofracking, he urged the town board to review the proposed law because he was concerned that it included language that could unintentionally hurt other area businesses or even drive them out of the area altogether.
Dirk Young, owner of Twin Birch Farms on Lacy Road, also stood up in opposition to the board’s proposal.
“Some of this law is very difficult to understand and I don’t think the board understands it,” Young said. “When I read the ban it looks like a ban on all drilling,” including water well drilling. Young said the pipeline language in the proposed law is “very vague,” as well the language on the economic viability of the assemblage of parcels.
He was concerned that the proposed law allows the municipality to tell landowners how they can or cannot use their own land, and accused the board of preparing to take over the management of a resident’s land without compensation to the resident. “Gas exploration has for years helped pay our taxes, and we’re losing that,” Young said. “We should be compensated for that.”
He also asked why the town felt it necessary to create a new local law when the state Department of Environmental Conservation rules already exempted the Skaneateles Lake watershed area from hydrofracking. Much of the debate on the issue “is not grounded in fact, it’s grounded in fear,” he said, adding that 100 years ago people probably felt the same way about electricity, that electricity has and continues to kill people every day, yet still people use it.
Young also asked the board if it had a legal budget for the inevitable court hearings this law will create. “Other towns will let you pay for this. This will go to court; I hope you’re ready,” he said.
When Young repeated the question to the board later in the meeting, Roney responded, “We always have a legal budget.”
While Roney allowed Young to slightly exceed his two minutes — after about 30 minutes of comments from more than one dozen hydrofracking opponents — Young did not finish his comments due to being interrupted by one such opponent.
Roney said the entire public hearing was recorded for the two absent board members to listen to before the May 3 meeting, which is expected to be the time the law is officially voted on.
For a full copy of the proposed law, visit the town website at: townofskaneateles.com/hearing.notices.shtml
Also at the meeting, the town board:
—Awarded the contract for a proposed window replacement project at town hall to Comfort Windows, which submitted the only bid. The bids were opened at 10 a.m. on April 17. Comfort Windows will replace 26 windows, mostly on the second floor of town hall, with triple-pane windows at a total cost of $19,474, or $749 per window.
—Voted to spend approximately $7,000 on the upcoming Austin Park playground upgrade. The town will pay for one piece of equipment for senior citizen-specific use and for the installation of the concrete pad on which to put the equipment.
—Agreed to spend not more than $5,000 from the town hall equipment reserve fund on computer updates including virus protection and email migration.
—Approved a request from the Skaneateles schools DWI program to waive the typical Austin Park usage fee for its May 15 DWI program in the pavilion parking lot.
—Approved a request from RedHouse Arts Center to perform two or possibly three shows of the William Shakespeare play “The Tempest” in Austin Park June 28 through 30.
—Approved a request from Gold’s Gym to allow tennis lessons at the Austin park tennis courts for children and adults in mid-July and mid-August. The lessons would utilize four courts but leave two courts open for public use. Gold’s and not the town will provide insurance coverage for the lessons.
—Heard from Town Parks Department supervisor Sue Murphy that the Austin Park restrooms are now open for the season, the Skaneateles Farmers’ Market will open for the season May 24 and registration for the town playday program will open soon.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.