Chatham backs another town in ‘fracking’ case

CHATHAM–The Town Board took up the issue of “fracking,” the controversial gas and oil drilling method, at its monthly meeting Thursday, July 18. The board also announced it is seeking candidates to fill a vacancy on the town Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) and talked about the progress of the repairs to the White Mills and the East Chatham bridges.

The board adopted a motion to support the Town of Ulysses in Central New York, which has filed a friend of the court brief that defend the principle of home rule as it applies to municipalities and their ability to control whether to allow fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing.

Ulysses, which is just northwest of Ithaca, filed it brief in a case involving the nearby Town of Dryden, one of two towns where trial court decisions last year upheld the right of towns to ban oil and gas drilling with local zoning. Anschutz Exploration Corporation, a natural gas drilling company, appealed the Dryden decision and the Town of Ulysses has asked to be heard in the case to explain to the court why state law gives towns the right to use zoning to prevent oil and gas exploration and drilling.

The Town of Ulysses in its filing for status as “amicus curie,” says that Anschutz claims it can dictate the location of any drilling under state law. The version of the filing posted online brief reads in part, “An oil and gas concern could, for example, locate a drilling operation next to a school or church, or in a residential district, so long as the State has given approval to do so, regardless of the terms of the municipality’s zoning ordinance. Such a result disregards the State’s longstanding municipal land use home rule principles.”

Chatham Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea said it was an important case because the outcome could affect home rule authority around the state. The four members of the board present–Councilman Bob Balcom was away– agreed and voted unanimously to support the Town of Ulysses’ brief filed by Albany law firm of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna LLP in the Dryden case. The Town of Claverack and other municipalities around the state have supported the decisions in the Dryden case and a similar one in the Town of Middlefield next to Cooperstown.

The state currently has a moratorium on fracking while the state health department examines the potential health impacts of the drilling practice.

Also at last Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Rappleyea reported that ZIC has worked on revising sections of the town zoning law that address timbering. He said the issue is a “tough thing to wrestle with.” Mr. Rappleyea told the board that though there is a long tradition of logging in the area, “We need to be careful about erosion.” He said the committee is now working on clear cutting.

Board member Henry Swartz, who is on the committee, said that ZIC had devoted three meetings to timbering alone. He also announced the opening on the ZIC board. The next meeting of the committee is August 7 at 6:30.

In other business:

Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt announced that the county has collected $2 million in back taxes. “That will help with cash flow quite a bit,” said Mr. DeGroodt, saying the collections came in after one letter to residents.

The board discussed changing the name of Zeanglein Road, which has one house and is named after the past owner. Clint Whittemore, who has lived in that one house since the 1980s, is asking that it be changed. Mr. DeGroodt said he would have the town lawyer look into the procedure of changing the name and deal with it at the next meeting.

Mr. DeGroodt said the board will open bids later this month and plan on three months of work on the White Mills Bridge. The East Chatham Bridge construction, paid for by the railroad company CSX, will be complete by the end of the year.

Plans for a new building at Crellin Park are moving along “as fast as they can,” said Mr. Swartz. He said that town Recreation Director Sheri Franks has met with an architect but there are no plans to build a new space before the end of this summer.

Frank Genovese of Chatham Hardware donated a credit at the store of $4,000 for Recreation Program supplies; the credit is not for building supplies.

The next board meeting will be Thursday, August 15 at 7 p.m. in the Town Village Hall on Route 295.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .


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