By Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE A month after passing a resolution widely seen as welcoming gas drilling, the Delaware Town Board is considering creating a drilling commission.
Wednesday’s regular board meeting featured an over-capacity crowd in the tiny town hall in Hortonville, where residents and activists on both sides of the polarizing issue listened as Supervisor Ed Sykes explained the idea.
Sykes said he had recently met with several anti-drilling residents who had expressed concern that the prior month’s vote had included little public comment and no prior notice.
They suggested Delaware create a commission featuring people on both sides of the matter to discuss drilling’s pros and cons, solicit public comment, and ultimately make a recommendation to town leaders.
Sykes agreed with the concept, saying it would better address the divisive issue than at a town board meeting focused on a myriad of concerns.
“I think we have very important day-to-day business to do in the town,” he told the crowd, “and I think the drilling debate can take away from that.”
Nevertheless, the debate exploded shortly thereafter, with pro- and anti-drilling speakers passionately, sometimes heatedly, insisting their concerns were paramount.
Several speakers decried the prior month’s resolution.
“Was it [the vote] democracy? I don’t think so!” said Hortonville resident Brian Caiazza. “… Let’s talk about rescinding it. Let’s talk about what matters.”
“That resolution manages to undermine the vast majority of town residents’ property rights in the name of property rights,” added Kenoza Lake’s Kate Kennedy. “... The responsible course of action is to declare a moratorium. What is the rush? The gas isn’t going anywhere.”
Some commentators indicated people interested in buying homes and land in the township are now avoiding it, while others worried about health and environmental impacts.
“We are numbers, bottom lines and collateral damage [to the gas industry],” said Jen Watts, Caiazza’s wife.
“It’s going to chase everyone away, I’ll guarantee it,” predicted Nyssa Calkin of Callicoon.
But pro-drillers like Long Eddy’s Noel van Swol, whose Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association includes Delaware residents and landholders, lauded the board for taking a stand.
“You’re not alone,” he pointed out, listing some of the 50 upstate townships that have also welcomed drilling. “You have support all across the Southern Tier and the Catskills, and it is growing day by day.”
Another speaker pointed out the booming economy in neighboring Pennsylvania, where drilling has begun.
“We need jobs,” said Tom Bury, a longtime Kohlertown resident. “... There’s nothing here!”
Callicoon dairy farmer Bill Graby half of whose acreage sits in the township wondered what anti-drillers might have said in the days when the railroad and Route 97 were proposed to be routed through the pristine Delaware River valley.
A few speakers promoted a forum for civil discussion, perhaps even some compromise.
Hortonville’s Roy Tedoff, an outspoken opponent of drilling, noted that while passion can be fruitful, raw anger is not.
“Nobody changes their minds,” he lamented. “... All it does is fill the room with heat.”
“People have to stop the crap and need to work together on it,” observed Highway Supt. Bill Eschenberg. “... Find a happy medium.”
Steve Lundgren of Hortonville, who with Ginny and Zeke Boyle suggested the commission idea to Sykes, hoped the commission would accurately gauge the majority of residents’ feelings about drilling.
“I think everybody in this town really does appreciate fair play,” he stated.
Neither John Gain nor Harold Roeder, who had introduced the original resolution, were able to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but Sykes said both were in support of starting the commission.
Yet when Sykes turned to the board members who were present Cindy Herbert and Al Steppich he got a lukewarm reception.
“I don’t know what’s going to be gained by it,” Steppich told Sykes.
Indeed, the neighboring Town of Cochecton mounted such a commission last year, but it failed to reach consensus and ultimately disbanded.
Delaware took no action on the idea Wednesday. Nevertheless, Sykes indicated after the meeting that he plans to bring it up again when the full town board can be present.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Wednesday, August 15 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.
Related resolution approved
On a related topic, the three board members unanimously approved the final generic environmental impact statement for the road use law that may one day regulate heavy industrial traffic on town streets.
“It’s a good thing,” explained Eschenberg, who is part of the eight-township Multi-Municipal Task Force which drafted it in anticipation of drilling’s arrival. “It protects the town. It’s something we have to have.”
A draft law is being prepared for presentation to the townships, with public hearings to follow.
If enacted by all eight municipalities, drilling companies and others engaged in heavy industrial activities will have to work out a detailed transportation plan (including paying for any road damage incurred) with the townships on whose roads they’ll travel.