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Drilling vote spurs public comments

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 23, 2010 — Gas drilling proved the central focus of Thursday’s full Legislature meeting in Monticello.
Legislators unanimously approved two resolutions, one banning any drilling involving hydrofracking on county-owned property, and one urging Congress to take action to “adequately safeguard the environment and the public from any environmental and health risks associated with hydrofracking.”
They found plenty of support from the audience.
“I think gas drilling is a really bad idea,” remarked Alice Diehl, whose family has operated a dairy farm for six generations in Callicoon. “... Once our aquifers are breached, that’s the end.”
“It’s THE issue confronting our region,” added Callicoon resident Liz Bucar, “... and we need to deal with it intelligently.”
She suggested creating a series of forums countywide that would seek out the facts and impacts of drilling – a concept that found support from the speakers that followed her.
“In essence,” John Kavaller of Jeffersonville told legislators, “you really are the arbiters for the public good.”
“We need more information. We need better science,” said retired Smallwood pediatrician and Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED) member Larysa Dyrszka.
She urged a moratorium on drilling in the county in the meantime, as did subsequent speakers.
“We have an opportunity to take what is a bad idea and not turn it into a huge mistake,” agreed Ayla Maloney of Callicoon, calling drilling “a hideous idea.”
North Branch Inn owner Victoria Lesser wondered what the county’s new slogan would reference after drilling arrives.
“Mountains of Opportunities ... for who?” she asked. “... Unfortunately, it will be at the expense of our farming… This is not about being environmental radicals – this is about being concerned for the public’s health.”
Gas drilling advocates were in the room, but none spoke.
Legislators, however, said they heard the message and will do what they can amidst a county restricted by state and federal regulations and its own internal disagreement over this issue.
“We do not have the power to say, ‘No drilling in Sullivan County,’” advised Legislator Leni Binder, who nevertheless opposes hydrofracking.
Both she and Legislator Jodi Goodman pointed out that the county has had several forums about drilling and its potential impacts.
But Goodman also pointed out that many county residents and businesspeople are in favor of drilling and resent efforts to restrict their ability to profit off their land.
“There is a very strong divide in the county,” she noted.
Legislator David Sager urged the public to separate the agricultural issues from the environmental and industrial facets of drilling.
“This has nothing to do with farming and everything to do with big business,” he remarked.
Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis concluded the comment session by promising that the county will not shy away from the topic.
“We can and will be the lead educator on this issue,” he said.

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