By Eli Ruiz
BETHEL A smaller than expected crowd of locals turned out for Thursday evening’s Town Board meeting to watch Bethel become the third, and largest, Sullivan County town to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking as the technique is commonly known involves the mixture of millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemical ingredients, injected at high pressure to break the rocks and free gas deposits. Energy companies are hoping to tap the natural gas from the gas-rich Marcellus Shale that lies beneath much of western Sullivan.
The board resolution to adopt local law # 1-2012 passed unanimously and thereby outlawed the use of fracking to extract the highly sought-after commodity in this scenic part of the county known worldwide as the site of the1969 Woodstock Festival.
Supervisor Daniel Sturm said before the vote, “I’m pleased to be here tonight to have this opportunity to present for a vote in our local law, # 1-2012, which will include a ban on hydrofracking and other high-impact industrial uses in the Town of Bethel.”
Sturm went in to call the practice, “among the uses that we [the board] felt have the worst record of air and water and chemical contamination potential.”
“Since July, when the new regulations came out from the DEC on hydrofracking for natural gas, I went on record and stated unequivocally that I was not satisfied with the state regulations… to me there is still a blatant disregard for adequate measures to protect our town… In working with the board we will do what is necessary to protect our natural resources including air, water and land for the future and I think that this law, at this time, will do that,” continues Sturm.
After an extended period of applause from the mostly pleased crowd, Bethel became the third town after Tusten and Lumberland to ban drilling in Sullivan County. It still remains to be seen, though, if the measure will open the town up to possible litigation as opponents of the law have already threatened legal action.
One of the few attendees in favor of drilling, Al Larson of the Bethel Landowners Group, took advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to berate the board for its decision.
“Dan, you and the Board baffle me,” said Larson. “You say you want to keep Bethel as it is… Well! How is it? At least 10.1 percent unemployed, 15 percent or more employed part-time and many homes in foreclosure, with more to come.”
Larson asked the board how they could continue to ignore the “Ad Valorem” tax paid by the drilling companies to the county, town, fire and school district saying, “on average this amounts to $600,000 per well, per year; what I’d say there were 40 wells? Leases, royalties, employment, repaired roads, reduced land and school taxes along with the homes saved…must I go on?”
Sturm and the board passed a resolution authorizing the retention of “special counsel.”
“The Town Board has received, by letter and written comment, threats of litigation with respect to the enactment of local law # 1,” said Sturm, after which the board voted again unanimously to retain attorney, Deborah Goldberg, of the non-profit firm Earthjustice - pro-bono - “In the event that the town requires representation.”