By Kaitlin Carney
ELDRED The Town of Highland Board held a Public Hearing on Friday at the Eldred School to discuss Local Law No. 3, referred to as a “ban on fracking.”
With over 150 people in attendance and 99 individuals signed up to speak, the meeting captured the attention of people on both sides of the issue.
Supervisor Andy Boyar opened the meeting by calling the well-attended meeting, “a true example of the democratic process.” He also informed those assembled that the board took the 300-mile round trip to Bradford County, PA, to see an active drilling community.
“Some people there think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, others see some good and some bad, others think it’s the worst thing for the environment,” he remarked, likening the sentiments there to those assembled before him.
Boyar closed his remarks with the “last myth to be addressed… that the town could regulate wells, setbacks, etc. We cannot do this through zoning. New York State has preempted the field. We are powerless to regulate and can only prohibit, if that is the will of the people. The core issue is to ban fracking, not to divert attention from critically important decisions.”
The floor was opened to public speakers for the next two hours and 40 minutes, each given 2 minutes to speak and the opportunity to submit comments in writing through May 14.
The first speaker, Fritz Kaiser, expressed concern with the wording of the law especially where it states “things that are not expressly permitted are prohibited.” He reminded the board, “this is a democracy… you don’t want something, you ban it, you don’t make blanket statements.”
Susan Vorstadt, a registered nurse from Highland Lake, reminded people that “nothing is more important than your health… nothing is worth sacrificing that for,” when outlining the many poisonous chemicals purported to be in fracking solution.
Many spoke about the potential jobs and stability that the industry could bring to the town. Jerry Sommers and John Thomas Vogt work in the gas extraction industry and spoke of the potential revenue and the successes of the towns they have worked in. They urged the board to not entirely close the door on the option of capitalizing on the potential for gas drilling with Sommers concerned about the “stagnant future of this town.”
Jim Hanson, president of the Beaver Brook Rod and Gun Club, stated that the club was approached to sign land leases and turned down millions of dollars because members are “excellent stewards of the land.” He remarked that his problem with Local Law No. 3 is “I believe it’s an illegal law… a knee jerk reaction proposed in February by an attorney from out of town. We have time to make a good law, and to invite everyone to the dance…”
Matthew J. Troy remarked that his opposition to the law was that “it is very poorly written, and I work in DC I read a lot of them?”
John Lang opposed the law because “there is too much in this law that prohibits too much development. This country was built on industrialization. When did that become a bad word?”
Speakers came from all over, including neighboring towns that have already banned heavy industrial uses through zoning, and representatives from counties in Pennsylvania who told of being negatively affected by the drilling.
While supporters of anti-fracking legislation clearly outnumbered opponents, many people urged the board to look at the wording of the law and encouraged them to not be so heavy-handed with their stance.
Councilman Fred Bosch was the final speaker. He is opposed to fracking, but remarked that as the law was worded “he opposed it.”
Supervisor Boyar, in his closing remarks, thanked everyone for attending.
“The board will do our level best to take everyone’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. We will do our best to make modifications and to clean up the language issue. We got a pretty clear message from the public,” he said.