By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Gas drilling, relatively absent from recent County Legislature meetings, briefly entered a discussion at Thursday’s Public Works Committee meeting.
The county had been forwarded two resolutions unanimously approved by the Town of Highland Board earlier this year: one calling upon the state to amend the Environmental Conservation Law to preserve local municipalities’ ability to oversee land use and development, and one asking the state to give local municipalities the explicit power to protect local roads through the requirement of road reconstruction securities and road use agreements.
A Multi-Municipal Task Force has been working on the latter issue, comprised of representatives from the townships of Rockland, Delaware, Callicoon, Bethel, Cochecton, Tusten, Highland and Lumberland.
The Highland Town Board provided the resolutions to the County Legislature to ask for its support, but that wasn’t immediately forthcoming.
“While I agree with the intent of taking care of the roads ... what this really is is an anti-drilling statement,” Legislator Frank Armstrong stated. “And if they’re asking the county for support on this issue, I think that’s the wrong direction we need to go in, especially in hard economic times.”
Public Works Commissioner Bob Meyer pointed out that the county already has its own road use permitting system in place for county routes (not town or state roads) and that the resolution about the roads expressly acknowledges that industries like gas drilling are “important to New York’s economy.”
Nevertheless, Armstrong remained adamant that “a woman veiled is still a woman.”
“I’m all in favor of protecting our roads,” he remarked. “But I’m not in favor of making a statement against fracking.”
Legislator Ron Hiatt acknowledged that while such a resolution could be used as a “sword,” it can also be a “shield” against costly damage to roads otherwise borne by taxpayers.
“It’s the same position adopted by the NYS Association of Towns,” remarked Legislator and Committee Chair David Sager. “... It doesn’t specifically preclude any operation of anything.
“... There is an inherent risk to roadways, and there should be a means of protecting that infrastructure,” he concluded.
Sager argued that his tax dollars “should not have to go towards road improvements that are a direct result of a select few who are going to gain financially” from drilling, but Armstrong saw no reason to wade into the countywide debate by putting the Legislature’s support behind regulations it hasn’t drafted nor has control over.
Legislator Alan Sorensen expressed a concern shared by other legislators that such a road use law could harm existing county industries reliant on trucking.
“I just need a little more time before I make a decision,” he explained. “... I want to see the extent of the authority they’re asking for.”
“So let’s just table it for next month,” replied Sager, who added that he’d like the county attorney to look into requiring disclosure for those legislators who may have a financial interest that could potentially be a conflict in a future vote on the matter.
College budget committee forming
Elsewhere during Thursday’s Legislature meetings, the Government Services Committee directed County Manager David Fanslau to put together a list of people to review the upcoming Sullivan County Community College budget and advise the Legislature.
According to Fanslau, the list currently includes himself and legislators Jonathan Rouis, Alan Sorensen, Ron Hiatt and Leni Binder, plus Deputy County Manager Josh Potosek, Treasurer Ira Cohen and former SCCC Board members Harold Gold, Harold Diamond and Nick Speranza, plus Jeff Shapiro of SCCC.
More SCCC representatives and locals like Alan Gerry may be invited to participate as well.
“I think we have to be upfront,” remarked Binder, who said the first step should be “to look at a percentage cut” in the $4 million the county currently contributes to the college’s budget. “I think that’s just the policy we have to have.”