Last week’s town board meeting, which included a public hearing on the proposed law for prohibiting hydrofracking within town limits, was not a typical occurrence in the ongoing saga of confronting the contentious issue in our town.
What was different this time was that people actually spoke out against the proposed law — which was a refreshing change. Not only was it refreshing, but the opposing viewpoints raised substantive and important questions.
The most pertinent point was the somewhat convoluted legalese language in which the 22-page local law is written. The question was asked: do the town board members fully understand what the law says and are they certain there will not be any unintended consequences from the law that could hurt local residents, farms and business owners?
Another excellent issue was that of the rights of individual land owners versus the perceived common good of the town as a community. By prohibiting hydrofracking, the town is essentially limiting what private land owners can do on their own property. For some people this is a financial question because they make money off of gas company drilling leases. For others, this is a constitutional issue that relates directly to the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. The amendment, more specifically, also deals with eminent domain issues and if, how and when the government may take a citizen’s land.
It was asked at the hearing if the town will compensate land owners for losing potential gas leases, which was not answered, nor does it seem to be addressed in the proposed law.
These are legitimate and substantive questions for the town board, and we were glad to hear them broached at the meeting. After the meeting, the members agreed that the points raised were important.
While we believe the town board members certainly have had the best interests of the community in mind during the many months this law has been in the works, the unwritten “law of unintended consequences” is something that must always be looked for.
There are still two weeks before the board will make its final vote on the law, and we encourage all residents to go to the town website and read the proposed law. If you have any questions or concerns you should contact the town supervisor or council members and let them know.