By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE The Town of Callicoon Board is maintaining a neutral position on gas drilling, but that didn’t keep the controversy away from its September meeting.
Following a short review of agenda items and reports from town officials, the board’s public comment session was once again dominated by residents with one thing on their minds: fracking. Although a vocal few in attendance made clear they were in support of natural gas drilling, the floor was largely controlled by the equally vocal anti-fracking crowd.
It’s a fact that didn’t surprise Callicoon Center resident Jill Wiener who presented petitions to the board that she said brings to 451 the number of residents who have gone on record to oppose gas drilling. Wiener told the board she’d used the freedom of information act to find out how many pro-fracking folks have spoken out in favor to the town, and there were only nine.
Evelyn Weissman of Callicoon Center said she’s in favor of natural gas drilling, but she told the board many people are “afraid to talk” because of the temperature of the conversations around the subject.
Linda Reich, a Shandelee resident and research biochemist, wasn’t afraid to talk. She was among those who challenged the town’s neutral stance at the September meeting. During a personal review of the town’s lengthy agriculture protection plan, Reich said she found a portion that she feels “welcomes” gas drilling. “This is a policy-setting statement,” Reich said. “It’s a pro go ahead, pro-drilling statement.”
With that plan attached to the comprehensive plan that a town committee is currently being developed, Reich said she feels “residents are being deceived.”
It was a charge Supervisor Tom Bose said was unwarranted. As a member of the committee that developed the ag plan, he noted, “Gas drilling was a huge topic from day one … it was not hidden in the plan.” What’s more, the committee that built the plan had representatives from various sectors of the community including members of Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Youngsville-based non-profit that is active in the fight against gas drilling.
The agriculture protection plan has been through public hearings, Bose added, and the sentence Reich found objectionable was in there for the public to read during that time. He also noted the comprehensive plan is still in the hands of the committee. It hasn’t gone to the town board yet and hasn’t been approved and therefore cannot set policy.
The discussion drew questions from other residents on the timing of the comprehensive plan, including when meetings for the committee are held and when the proposed plan will go to the town board.
Meetings are not open to the public, said Deputy Supervisor and committee liaison Dave Kuebler, because it’s a committee of volunteers, not an official board. The members are meeting “when we can,” he added, and working on the myriad comments from the recent public hearing on the proposed plan.
The lack of answers on various issues from the town board drew ire from Jeffersonville resident Gene Diskin.
“There seems to be a whole lot of questions about fracking, and people don’t seem to get full answers,” he noted.
Diskin got an agreement from Bose, who said he’s waiting for answers from the State of New York.
It was a stance supported by Jim Fullerton, a part-time Shandelee resident who noted he’s in favor of gas drilling and encouraged people to listen to what the state has to say on the matter.
But Wiener and fellow Callicoon Center resident Bruce Ferguson urged the board to act before the state as other local towns have done. “I’m talking about a moratorium, you don’t have to ban it,” Weiner said. “I don’t see that waiting for the state … is a prudent measure.”
“Seventy percent of people in this county don’t want it,” Ferguson added, asking as he has at other meetings why the proposed comprehensive plan allows for zoning in industrial zones and “man camps” that will temporarily house workers. “The provisions of the comprehensive plan do not belong there,” he said.
But voices on either side were not able to sway the board. The Town of Callicoon remains at least officially neutral on gas drilling.