October 29, 2010
County wants state forest drilling ban
Legislature calls on DEC to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in forest management plan
Cortland County lawmakers Thursday urged the state Department of Environmental Conservation to prohibit the controversial hydraulic fracturing gas drilling method on state forest lands.
The Legislature passed the resolution by a 10-9 vote, with Legislature Chairman Jack Williams (D-8th Ward) casting the tie-breaking vote that carried the measure through. Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) was absent.
The resolution calls for the DEC to modify its State Forest Management Plan, which dictates what uses are allowed on state lands, to prohibit hydro-fracking, which extracts gas from the underlying shale by injecting large quantities of chemically treated water into the rock.
The state is accepting public comments on the plan until today.
County Legislators Jennifer Gofkowski (D-Homer) and Susan Briggs (R-Cortlandville), who voted against the resolution, had called for it to be tabled, saying they wanted more time to reach out to their constituents for feedback, but Williams called for the vote given that public feedback is only being accepted until today.
Legislator Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) also opposed the resolution, saying he had heard from town supervisors in Marathon, Taylor, Willet, Scott and Cincinnatus who do not oppose allowing gas drilling to proceed on state lands. There is a moratorium on gas drilling that uses hydro-fracking, until the state reviews a document outlining environmental concerns associated with the technology.
“I’m concerned we didn’t get the towns’ opinion, the state lands are in the towns,” Ross said after the meeting.
Ross wanted the resolution to come through the county Agriculture/Environment/Planning Committee earlier in the month so legislators would have had time to reach out to the towns and their constituents for feedback.
But Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Cuyler, Solon and Truxton) who pushed for the resolution to be brought to the floor, said the DEC’s public comment timeline was not long enough for her to bring the resolution through the committee. Arnold also pointed out the state forest land lies within the county, not just the towns, and the Legislature has the right to let its voice be heard.
“The towns are welcome to put in their comment, this was a comment coming from the county level,” Arnold said.
State forest land accounts for approximately 31,000 acres in the county. Taylor Valley, Cuyler Hill and James D. Kennedy Memorial are among the largest, according to a chart Ross provided, which lists the county’s state forests.
Arnold said the resolution will send a message to the DEC that gas drilling is “totally anathema” to the purpose of state forests.
A similar resolution was recently passed by Tompkins County, Arnold said, and she hopes there will be enough voices opposing the drilling on state lands so the DEC will alter its plan.
“If there are enough, maybe the DEC will see the incompatibility of having this industrial process happening in forest lands used for recreation, peace and quiet, hunting and wildlife,” Arnold said.
Legislator Michael Park (R-Homer) said he opposed the resolution because he thinks gas should continue to be explored as an alternative energy source. He also wanted to know what the town boards thought of the idea.
Before casting their votes, legislators asked County Attorney Ed Purser if they should disclose if they hold gas leases. Purser said no.
Arnold, who herself holds leased lands, said she agreed with Purser’s ruling. Arnold compared the conflict to that of legislators who are farmers, saying it is not realistic to expect all legislators with agricultural interests not to vote on topics related to that industry.
“This issue can affect all our constituents whether there is a gas lease on our own land or not,” Arnold said.
Arnold said she plans not to re-up her lease when it expires next year, saying she signed it before she knew of the new technology of hydraulic fracturing.
The resolution will be forwarded to Gov. David Paterson, Senate and Assembly minority and majority leaders, Sen. James Seward (R-Milford), Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca), Assemblyman Gary Finch (R-Springport) and the DEC commissioner.
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