Dan Hust | Democrat
RURAL BETHEL LANDOWNERS Coalition co-founders Al Larson, left, and Harold Russell discuss the start of attempts to lease acreage for gas drilling in and around the Town of Bethel.
Landowners coalition forms in Bethel
By Dan Hust
BETHEL There’s a new property owners alliance in town, and its focus is on Bethel.
In fact, members just chose a name for the organization Rural Bethel Landowners Coalition at Friday’s meeting in Bethel.
Founded by Town of Bethel landholders Al Larson, Harold Russell, Susan Brown Otto and Herman Goebel, the group already has 7,000 acres on its map land the owners hope will be attractive to gas drillers.
“By the next meeting, you’re going to see this map a lot more colored in,” predicted Larson, a retired educator who lives in Livingston Manor but owns the old family farm near Briscoe.
He was pointing to a tax map showing Bethel and the neighboring townships of Callicoon, Liberty, Delaware and Cochecton. Highlighted in yellow were sometimes small, often large swaths of acreage concentrated in northwestern Bethel, mostly between Jeffersonville and Kauneonga Lake, including some within about a mile of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.
Larson and Russell, who headed up the group’s third meeting on Friday, acknowledged western Bethel is full of open land but pointed out its most attractive feature to gas companies is the about-to-open Millennium Pipeline, no more than 10 miles distant.
In fact, the natural gas transmission pipeline runs through the southwest corner of Bethel, and industry workers have told locals that gas companies will seek to first drill nearest the pipeline, which offers direct access to the lucrative New York City market.
Russell actually has already been approached, saying Chesapeake offered the farmer $2,500 an acre but he didn’t sign.
Members initially wanted to join the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association, but with 70,000 acres already in negotiations, founders Noel van Swol and Bill Graby urged Larson, Russell and company to form their own alliance.
So in September, they did, and now they’re looking into hiring an attorney.
“None of us are in a position to sit down and play poker with the gas companies,” Larson told the dozen attendees at Friday’s meeting. “... We’re all novices, and they are experts.”
Though no one will be compelled to sign a lease, members are hoping the amount of acreage and the anticipated revival of a slumping gas industry will secure a land- and owner-favorable agreement by this time next year.
“We are a group of landowners in the County of Sullivan, Town of Bethel, who have joined together to ensure maximum financial benefits from leasing, protection for our environment and absolution from negligence pertaining to anything related to gas drilling,” reads the just-created mission statement.
Or, as Larson puts it, “we are going to work as hard as we can to get as much information as we can.”
He’s seeking a lease that protects his property as much as profits him, he says, but he also feels there’s little alternative.
“The state and federal government need the energy, and we’re sitting on it,” he remarked, citing what the city did with properties it sought for reservoir construction. “Even if I didn’t want them to drill on my property and I and everyone else in Bethel said ‘no,’ it is my personal opinion that gas companies will be drilling on our land whether we want them to or not. ... If they want it, they’re going to come and get it.”
So Larson is intent on ensuring he reaps the benefits of his land rather than the government.
“I’m going to take that opportunity while I have it,” he said.
The next meeting of the Rural Bethel Landowners Coalition is currently scheduled for March 25, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. at the Bethel Presbyterian Church along Route 17B. For more information, Larson welcomes emails at alarson @hvc.rr.com.