DeWitt town board votes to ban hydrofracking

— After three years of discussion and research by board members, the DeWitt town board voted to ban hydrofracking and oil exploration throughout the town on May 13. All seven members agreed that town board’s commitment to protecting the health, safety and welfare of its residents could be put into jeopardy by the possible health and environmental risks posed by fracking.

“We’ve got concerns for our air and water resources as well as for the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said town Supervisor Ed Michalenko. “Hydrofracking is an industry that would draw an enormous amount of wealth to us, but it’s not something that’s supportive of a long-term, diverse economy. For the protection of human health and the environment, we chose to ban those activities.”

Michalenko said that DeWitt has many sites in both the Northern and Southern sections of the town that have the potential to harbor natural gas below ground. He added that the town’s access to highways and water resources could make the area appealing to oil companies.

Board members have been doing their homework- tracking what’s been happening in other states that allow hydrofracking, what other laws have been passed regarding the issue, accidents and impacts to roadways that result from fracking. In the end, Michalenko said, the cons outweighed the pros.

“If there’s an accident, you’re dealing with the contamination of the groundwater and then there’s the consumption of service waters and the discharge into the service waters are a concern,” he said. “Also, there’s the impact on the roads and highways from all of the heavy equipment that’s being transported back and forth. Finally, it impacts our air. These sites discharge gas and other materials into the atmosphere.”

But above everything else, the town wanted to make sure a ban was put in place before it was too late. The topic of hydrofracking has been under discussion by New York State for a few years now. Michalenko said the state is coming closer to reaching a decision about whether to allow fracking statewide, allow it in some places and not others, or ban it entirely. Because of the newly-imposed ban, no matter what the decision is, the town of DeWitt will be unaffected.

“We believe there’s a likelihood that the state is going to allow the municipalities that have banned hydrofracking to stand,” Michalenko said. “But the oil companies may be allowed the right to drill in those townships that have not put a ban in place.”

The town of Pompey is set to vote on June 3 on law which would prohibit natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production wastes. The towns of Marcellus, Onondaga, Skaneateles, Spafford and Otisco have already voted to ban fracking.

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