By Kaitlin Carney
NARROWSBURG Prior to last month’s regular Town of Tusten Board meeting a public hearing was held as part of the zoning rewrite and as a procedural element in the adoption of new zoning laws.
A capacity crowd attended the second and final public hearing regarding the zoning rewrite, an undertaking to insure alignment with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
Most of speakers passionately agreed that Tusten should adopt new local zoning laws and include Article XIV, the section prohibiting high-impact industrial uses in the town. To its supporters, this will protect the town from the threats of gas drilling and hydrofracking.
A familiar figure of late in the river valley, David Slottje, a pro bono attorney from Ithaca spoke. With his wife Helen, he has assisted and advised several townships undergoing zoning rewrites in view of potential Marcellus Shale gas drilling. He advised the assembled that he was “uniquely qualified to speak to the issues concerning the town,” because of his 30 years of experience in law and his over “1,000 hours spent looking at what communities can do to protect against the dangers of gas drilling.”
He offered his free advice: “Ask paid attorneys for the town to review these facts,” before indicating that a number of other attorneys, including the Counsel for the New York Association of Towns and the Albany firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP, who reviewed the article, agree that the protections of Article XIV of the zoning laws “will hold up” to challenges by the gas companies, even in the Court of Appeals, the highest court of the state.
A number of other speakers echoed support for Article XIV and thanked the rewrite committee for protecting the water, air, and all forms of life from threats posed by hydrofracking.
Cass Collins spoke on behalf of her husband Jim Stratton, who could not attend. “My view is that current fracking lawsuits are aimed at duping small towns into not passing legislation; vote into law the strongest, most restrictive zoning laws you can… let the liars sue!” she said. “If they don’t have to sue us to win, it’s our water, etc that will lose and it will be on your heads…”
Others spoke of personal experiences where construction or renovations were deferred because of what is viewed as a threat to the rural landscape of the town.
Town of Highland Supervisor Andy Boyar apologized for speaking at another town’s hearing, but referred to the “long common border” between towns when voicing his desire to “not live in an industrial, corporate colony. I will lead my town in a fight against this.”
He reminded everyone that litigation is equally possible on both sides of the issue before eliciting applause from the crowd with his comment, “Don’t sit on the fence all day… you’ll get splinters. I wish you these three things: have courage, have courage, have courage.”
The minority speakers who spoke out in support of gas drilling or additional exploration into the safety of gas drilling were few and far between. Their comments were received respectfully as those assembled were encouraged to “be neighborly” in support of the free speech process by someone in the crowd.
One speaker, Ned Lang, identified himself as “pro gas” and spoke of his desire to reduce dependence on foreign oil by becoming self-sufficient through using our natural resources for power.
Olivia Grady, 16, of Narrowsburg gave a voice to the youth of the area when she said, “I ought to be working on my homework, but I’m not because this is important to me…”
The hearing, scheduled to go from 5:30-7 p.m. ran over by nearly an hour to accommodate all of those wishing to speak.