No waivers for NYRI: Bethel
By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE Though the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) high-voltage powerline route may or may not pass through the heart of the Town of Bethel, Supervisor Dan Sturm is taking no chances.
At Thursday’s town board meeting, he announced that he had sent a letter to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) responding to NYRI’s request for waivers from various town code requirements. The PSC has the power to override local municipal law in certain cases.
According to town attorney Rob McEwan, Bethel’s position is plain: no waivers.
NYRI wants a waiver on the 50-foot side yard and 150-foot lot width minimums in Bethel, plus the 35-foot building height limitation. The town is only willing to give on the height limitation, according to Sturm’s letter.
NYRI also wants a waiver on the landscaping plan requirement if they file for a special use permit, arguing that the height of the towers will negate the need for visual screening. Bethel, however, is certain landscaping will be needed along property lines to shield neighboring properties.
NYRI is also asking to be exempted from the noise rules in Bethel even as the township is considering a new permitting process for “unreasonable” noise levels. Anticipating the loud sounds of heavy construction, Sturm urged the PSC not to give NYRI “any unfettered right to make noise.”
Finally, NYRI wants to avoid stop work orders and penalties from the town for any work in floodplains. While Sturm noted that NYRI has indicated a willingness to apply for a floodplain work permit, he also pointed out that the company appears to be “unwilling to abide by [the permit’s] terms.”
NYRI is arguing that its work will not affect floodplains or threaten public safety, noting that its towers will be securely anchored. Sturm, however, responded that neighboring property owners may still be affected by the presence of the towers in floodplains.
NYRI has yet to identify where these floodplains exist, as well, so Sturm rejected the company’s argument that stop work orders which would only be issued if violations were not quickly resolved would “significantly increase project costs.”
Auditor says town looks good
Andrew Arias, an auditor with Mongaup Valley-based Cooper, Niemann and Company, told board members and the public Thursday that Bethel’s finances aren’t as shabby as some had feared.
“The highway fund is getting much better,” he noted of the township’s most difficult budgetary item.
While the highway fund balance decreased by $32,000 this year, expenditures outpaced revenues by only $2,788 a welcome change from the years when the deficit ranged into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Arias attributed the negative balance to the vagaries of weather and the necessarily gradual return to good financial health.
Nevertheless, the general fund balance increased by $161,000, leaving the township in decent shape, he said.
“Overall, the budgeting was good,” remarked Arias.
Members named to new committee
Thanks to a state grant to promote and preserve agriculture, Bethel has formed an Ag and Farmland Protection Committee to determine how best to accomplish that goal.
Members include Bob Blais, Ted Yeomans, Willie Hughson, David Biren, Jennifer Young, Susan Runnells and Fred Michel. They are expected to make recommendations to the town board by next year.
Several other townships throughout the county received the same grant and are starting similar committees. Sturm said Bethel may partner its efforts with the Town of Liberty in particular.
Gas drilling moratorium mulled
Sturm told the public Thursday that Bethel is monitoring the Town of Highland’s efforts to temporarily halt permitting of any gas drilling activity.
Bethel is on the eastern edge of the Marcellus Shale deposit, which geologists and gas companies believe contains vast reservoirs of untapped natural gas.
The process to drill for and extract that gas, however, is controversial, and residents like Denise Frangipane are worried.
“It’s being couched as a way to help farms,” she remarked. “That’s very disingenuous and far from the truth.”
Bethel farmer and former supervisor Harold Russell, however, said meetings on the topic have been held by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Farm Bureau for over a year, and places like upstate Chemung County have called the expanding drilling effort “the biggest economic boost in years,” he related.
Calling the charges of environmental damage “a bunch of bull,” Russell said, “It’s all just people making up horror stories… One out of every 10,000 [wells] will give them a problem, and I hope you don’t think we’ll have 10,000 wells in Sullivan County.”
Russell indicated he’s already negotiating a drilling lease with a gas company and urged the board not to hinder locals’ efforts to get out from under a crushing tax burden.
Frangipane said it’s not about stopping the drilling process but about ensuring proper protections are in place.
“There’s no rush to this,” she pointed out. “The gas just isn’t going anywhere.”