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Dan Hust | Democrat

Bruce Ferguson, left, of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy makes a point in front of County Manager David Fanslau during Thursday’s full Legislature meeting in Monticello.

Anti-drilling comments rule

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — September 21, 2010 — Apparently fired up by last month’s pro-drilling comments, nearly a dozen locals opposed to unrestricted gas drilling – especially hydrofracking – grabbed legislators’ collective ear on Thursday.
The focus was as much on the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development as drilling itself, with speakers lambasting what they see as its not-so-subtle pro-drilling position.
“The fact is the Sullivan County Partnership has decided to promote a pro-‘safe drilling’ policy although it is not competent to determine what ‘safe drilling’ is,” Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy co-founder Bruce Ferguson told legislators.
“... I suggest the Partnership wait for the results of that [EPA] study before they say another word about ‘safe drilling.’”
Fellow Catskill Citizens member Jill Wiener urged the Legislature to require the Partnership and any other tax-funded agencies to post pre-2010 minutes, disclose all conflicts of interest, reveal financial statements and salaries of officers, list all grants and loans, and be transparent about the kinds of incentives offered to encourage economic development.
“We know some members of the [Partnership’s] board make money from gas leasing, although there has been no formal disclosure,” agreed Ferguson. “Do other members have contracts with gas drilling companies? I think the public is entitled to an answer.”
Ferguson stated that those answers have been hard to get from the Partnership directly, likening the agency to a “private boy’s club.”
“And there is a second problem with the Partnership’s attitude toward drilling,” Ferguson continued. “It acts as if industrial shale gas extraction will be a tide that lifts all boats.
“There is no evidence to support this notion. In fact, fracking is more likely to be a tsunami that will swamp and sink many, many boats.”
Cochecton resident Jane Roth said the county has already gotten a taste of that wave, thanks to her township’s ongoing argument with the Millennium Pipeline company over a million dollars’ worth of damage to town roads – of which she said Millennium has paid just a portion.
Pat Shearer of Yulan added that there are other more personal financial concerns at stake, arguing that liability insurance could be lost on properties that lease for gas drilling.
And Carolyn Duke of Roscoe worried that the county’s “eclectic network” of small businesses – of which she and her husband are a part – could “all come crashing down” if drilling arrives.
Indeed, a local contractor, Mark Keoppen of Callicoon, said his business has already suffered from just the spectre of drilling.
Tourism, in particular, is at risk, according to Jeff Allison of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, who also volunteers at Bethel Woods.
“Without clean water and a clean Delaware River,” Allison remarked, “there won’t be a reason for visitors to come to Sullivan County and to Bethel Woods.
“... Moreover,” he stated, “tourism can be a stronger economic engine than gas development.”
Allison cited state studies showing that $7 is generated in New York for every $1 spent on tourism, whereas gas drilling only manages $1.40 per dollar spent.
“I believe we as a county should ask the State Legislature and the governor to wait until the EPA study is completed before we issue any state regulations that would allow unsafe drilling,” he concluded.
Carol Roig of Barryville lamented the “class warfare” she and others believe last month’s pro-drilling speakers were trying to spark by delineating a difference between “locals” and New York City residents who own second homes in the area.
“Did we miss something when we moved here in 1998?” she remarked of she and husband John Back. “Is there some statute or common law tradition that will inform our notion of when we can be said to have lived in and paid taxes in Sullivan County long enough to be considered first-class citizens?
“If 13 years is not sufficient, at what span of years in full-time residence may we legitimately enter into a discussion of how our taxes are spent, or about decisions that will affect our health, our property values and our quality of life for the foreseeable future?” Roig asked.
She urged Legislator David Sager, who is running for NYS Senator on a platform that includes a stricter approach to drilling, to “hold your ground.”
Roig admitted she doesn’t envy county officials’ difficult work ahead.
“We can only urge you to give the complex questions surrounding the natural gas issue the depth of research, thoughtful analysis and courageous attention to the long-term public good that such a momentous issue requires,” she said.
“We promise to be supportive of that effort, and to address the Legislature and our fellow citizens with greater respect than was shown in this chamber on August 24.”

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