December 30, 2011
Towns enmeshed in fracking fray
Year brings drilling bans, lawsuit as towns and villages deal with the issue
Controversies about electronic signs, housing projects, hydrofracking and land use made news in the region’s towns and villages in 2011.
Hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, a horizontal drilling method for extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation under the region, continued to divide communities.
Town boards in Dryden and Summerhill passed laws to stop landowners with drilling leases from allowing gas companies to act on them, while the state Department of Environmental Conservation took public comment as it finalizes its new regulations.
Dryden amended its zoning laws to ban drilling and mining operations, hoping it would stand up in court. Hundreds of residents supported the move, saying gas drilling would damage water and air, as well as quality of life, and bring an influx of crime. But some residents said landowners should have the right to decide for themselves and that drilling would be an economic boost.
One gas company has challenged the Dryden zoning law in state Supreme Court, saying only the state has regulatory power.
Summerhill residents had the same debate, as the Town Council passed a local law in November that bans oil and gas extraction from land.
In Taylor, a resident who wants to develop a motocross raceway on his land met with opposition from neighbors.
A proposed local law banning signs with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, anywhere in the village was unanimously defeated at an October meeting of the Homer Village Board.
The proposal would have banned all LED signs in the village of Homer. It also would have forced the owners of any existing signs to remove their signs within two years or get a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
A sign in front of the Homer Congregational Church on the Village Green created concern among residents soon after it was installed in June, prompting the proposed law.
The village of Dryden’s Southworth Library finished a $1.4 million expansion that added a whole new wing larger than the original library. The money came mostly from auctioning the manuscript of an Abraham Lincoln speech, willed to the library trustees in 1928 and sold in 2009 for $3.4 million.
Marathon’s birthday party
The village of Marathon commemorated its 150th anniversary in August. The village was officially incorporated as a village Dec. 28, 1861. Organizers considered having the anniversary celebration closer to that date but were concerned about winter weather, said Patricia McConnell, town and village historian.
Marathon’s history stretches back to 1794 when surgeon Japeth Hunt became Marathon’s first settler. Hunt served in the Revolutionary War.
Water, sewer issues
The village of McGraw finalized funding in December for its $3.3 million water system replacement project, which will replace 22,000 feet of main as well as hydrants and a pumping station.
McGraw received bad news in November from a state Comptroller’s Office report: an incorrect method of estimating sewer use led to underbilling that cost the sewer fund as much as $162,000 between 2005 and 2010. That led to sewer fund deficits year after year. Village officials have been working since the summer to correct the problem.
The town of Willet addressed flooding problems along Willet Creek by excavating and rerouting the stream along a half-mile span where it crosses under Route 41.
McGraw changed mayors, as Bob Martin defeated incumbent Pamela Ross after her first term. Martin had been running Village Board meetings as Ross recovered from a stroke.
The town of Dryden kept control with the Democrats, as incumbent Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner withstood a challenge by newcomer Republican Bruno Schickel. The Republican slate questioned the Town Board’s legal stance against hydrofracking and said the town was overspending. Democrats took all three contested elections.
Trustee Genevieve Suits was elected village of Homer mayor, unopposed, replacing Mike McDermott, who did not seek re-election.
A developer received permission to build a housing development in the village of Dryden, across the road from the high school, after several hearings with residents who thought the project would attract crime, traffic and flooding problems. Poets Landing will have 144 units in eight buildings, with a community building, and eventually will add a 144-unit senior citizen building, according to the plans. Developer Conifer LLC made numerous revisions to its plan to appease village residents.
In Lapeer, an influx of Amish families led to questions about busing to Amish schools by the Marathon Central School District.
Change of plan
The owners of Hope Lake Lodge and its indoor water park, and investors in its condominiums — all part of Greek Peak Mountain Resort — asked the town of Virgil for an 80 percent drop in property assessment. That would translate into a $17 million decrease, which would cost the town, Cortland County and the Cortland city school district hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.
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