Gas meetings open to the public
Story by Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE The Town of Delaware’s gas drilling commission started meeting earlier this month, knowing they have an enormous job ahead of them.
“My goal, and I hope everyone’s on board with this, is to find the truth,” Supervisor Ed Sykes told the commission members. “... There’s an awful lot of conjecture, subjectivity and dot-connecting.”
Whether this commission can navigate through the polarizing emotions of this hugely controversial issue remains uncertain, but the five members seemed ready to try.
“You know it’s going to affect municipalities,” acknowledged member Craig Schumacher, referring to a potential need for more police, sanitation and highway services due to drilling.
Schumacher, Earl Kinney, Kara McElroy, Matt Hofer and Cindy Menges agreed to initially meet weekly, starting this Monday, October 29, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Hortonville Firehouse (next door to Delaware’s town hall).
The weekly meetings will continue at least through November 19, and all are open to the public.
The replacement for Democrat Publisher Fred Stabbert III, who resigned before meetings began in protest of being labelled by Sykes as a “pro-driller,” has yet to be named, though Sykes said he is attempting to find a sixth member.
In the meantime, the existing five will have plenty of homework, not just to research drilling but to figure out what to do with that information.
“Why are we forming the commission?” Schumacher proffered as questions to be answered. “What goals do we seek to achieve? What outcomes would we like to see? What information do we need? Who are the stakeholders? Who should be part of the discussion?
“We have to have transparency and facilitate neutrality,” he added, “gather reliable information, and do not debate opinions and perceptions.”
“I think that will be one of our hardest jobs,” predicted Kinney, who believes the “real, true answers” lie outside Delaware’s boundaries.
To that end, the group may take field trips to places like Susquehanna and Bradford counties in Pennsylvania, where drilling has already occurred.
Menges pointed out, too, that the entire commission must agree that their sources are reliable and valid.
“I’ve done a lot of statistics in my career,” she cautioned, “and you can sway them any way you want.”
She added that the commission isn’t as interested in gauging public opinion as it is in establishing whatever facts are to be found.
That garnered disagreement from audience member and Kenoza Lake resident Tom Kappner.
“It’s something worth considering: how do people feel in this town?” he argued.
“It’s not a fact in consideration for this commission,” replied Sykes, who told members that opening it up to questions and comments from the audience “would be a mistake, and you’d lose your objectivity.”
Instead, the commission will accept written comments, including at the meetings themselves. (An email address email@example.com has been set up for those who cannot attend.)
Then again, there was talk that verbal comments will be allowed.
In the meantime, Sykes shared his own opinion, as well.
“The primary issue, in my mind, seems to be the environmental issues,” he told the commission. “... Those are the things I want to examine.”
He and Hofer share the belief, however, that Delaware may never see drilling not due to any legislative action, but simply because of geology and economics, with Sykes echoing thoughts that there might not be enough quality gas underneath the area to make drilling worthwhile.
“I do believe it’s a long time off, if it ever comes,” assessed Hofer.
Still, Sykes urged the commission to investigate places where drilling has had positive and negative effects, arguing that the state’s continued delay in permitting gives the commission time to do a thorough job.
Commission members largely avoided talking about the pros and cons of drilling itself, save for a thought from Schumacher.
“If we look at this thing globally, gas could be a bridge to something,” he remarked. “I’m not a proponent of drilling, but it may be a necessary evil for the time being.”
Delaware’s town board majority currently supports drilling, making the commission controversial. In fact, two board members Harold Roeder and Al Steppich attended a pro-drilling rally in Albany last week.
But Sykes indicated the board will listen to whatever the commission ultimately presents.
“If you come up with items that scare the hell out of me, the town board would probably change their minds,” he predicted.
Internally, at least, members agreed that they can work together.
“I think there’s common ground with anyone,” Kinney stated. “Nobody wants to jeopardize their health or anyone else’s health.”
“Or their quality of life,” added Hofer.