By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON Cochecton’s drilling ban proponents may have gained ground with the town board Wednesday.
At its regular monthly meeting, the board was presented with a petition bearing 557 signatures urging town leaders to prohibit or at least “firmly limit” gas drilling within Cochecton’s borders.
“At present, all industry within the town is sited in two small areas comprising approximately 0.1 percent of the total land area,” reads the petition, created by a citizens group called Keep Cochecton Green.
“We are concerned that all districts of our town are now at risk of being suddenly and chaotically industrialized by natural gas exploration and that our quality of life will be lost,” it continues. “The recent amendments to our Zoning Law that the board has settled upon do nothing to protect us and our quality of life, nor will the Road Protection Plan that the board is prepared to adopt in the coming months.”
(That road plan is scheduled for a public hearing at the next regular meeting on October 10 at 7 p.m. at the town hall in Lake Huntington. More info is available on the town’s website: www.townofcochectonny.org.)
Currently, the town board’s position on gas drilling is officially neutral. But as has been the case in most of Sullivan County’s western and southern townships, those against drilling are pressuring leaders to enact bans.
“Waiting ... is no longer reasonable,” Cochecton resident Allan Rubin told the board, just before he handed the petition to them. “...We are still gathering signatures, but we believe that the number already reached is sufficient proof of what our townspeople truly want. ... Now it is up to the board to stop dodging its responsibility as elected representatives and do what it is obligated to do under the Town Law to promote the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens of Cochecton.”
Ten more speakers followed, and all but one also advocated for a ban, arguing that doing so would ensure the town retains home rule rather than letting the state solely determine gas drilling regulations.
The lone pro-drilling statement was offered by Cochecton resident Pete Grosser.
“From the bottom of my heart, I don’t believe it’s that bad,” he said of drilling’s potential impacts. “I believe drilling can be done safely.”
A pro-drilling petition which Grosser said has more than 200 signatures was not presented, however.
Yesterday, Grosser told the Democrat the petition will be given to the town either directly or at its next board meeting.
He acknowledged the pro-drilling side had not gone door-to-door due to the amount of work and time involved, opting instead to give out signature sheets to residents and property owners who are already known to support safe drilling in Cochecton.
“I truly believe if we had gone door-to-door, we’d have come up with a number closely approaching that of the anti-gas petition,” Grosser stated.
On Friday, Supervisor Gary Maas confirmed that the anti-drilling petition and related comments had an effect on the town board, hinting that Cochecton might become the sixth Sullivan County township to ban drilling.
Maas said a handful of the 557 signatures were duplicates (Rubin acknowledged the same, revising the count to 552 on Friday) and that out of more than 1,100 registered voters in the township, only 259 signed the petition.
Still, in the absence of a counter-petition from pro-drilling residents, Maas acknowledged that the anti-drilling petition could be interpreted as a majority opinion.
“I would say I’d have to concur, because the other side hasn’t presented diddly,” he explained.
Further discussion on drilling is expected at the next meeting, said Councilman Larry Richardson.
“I think it’s time we address this issue again,” he told fellow board members.