Fracking continues to divide Middleburgh


By David Avitabile

The hydrofracking issue continues to split the Middleburgh town board.
A potential moratorium on fracking was halted-at least for this month-when the town board Thursday failed to set a public hearing for February on a temporary ban on gas drilling.
Supervisor James Buzon pushed for the moratorium noting that the town board asked the planning board to review the town's zoning laws last April and the planning board still needs more time.
He said it was likely the planning board will not be done reviewing the definitions in the zoning law by the time Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to make a decision on fracking.
A vote to hold a public hearing failed with Mr. Buzon and Councilwoman Susan Makely voted yes and Councilmen Frank Herodes and David Lloyd voted no.
The discussion last week followed an agreement last month to have representatives from both sides of the fracking issue speak to the board.
Mr. Herodes, who has said he is against fracking, said that should be done first before a moratorium is considered.
Mr. Buzon said he attended last week's planning board meeting. Most of the members of the planning board say they need more time and some even favor a moratorium.
The members of the planning board will be seeking help from county planning to review the zoning law. Mr. Buzon said he gave a copy of the zoning board changes drawn up by Ithaca attorneys David and Helen Slottje that were approved by the Town of Schoharie.
A moratorium, Mr. Buzon said, would give the planning board the time to review the definitions in the zoning law and make changes, if necessary.
"We need to take the pressure off them," he said, though he said he would not bring up the motion of a moratorium.
Schoharie town Supervisor Gene Milone, who was at the meeting to discuss another issue, said using the Slottjes to help draft the changes to the zoning laws saved the town a lot of money.
Schoharie now has a zoning law that comes as close to banning fracking "without saying a ban."
A moratorium could be set for six months, Mr. Buzon said, noting that five other towns in the county had passed moratoriums on gas drilling.
Councilwoman Makely added that those towns are not being sued because of their actions.
Mr. Buzon said he contacted the Slottjes about speaking to the town board but they said it was in the best interest of the town not to discuss the weaknesses of a town's zoning law in public.
Airing the weakness could help "open the doors" for a company and let them "walk in."
Councilman Lloyd said there is no apparent rush of people ready to frack in Middleburgh.
"People aren't waiting at our gate to start drilling," he said.
Resident William Karlau answered, "You're going to wait until it's too late."
Town resident John Diaz wondered if the town was setting up too many bureaucratic barricades that could turn businesses away.
Councilman Herodes said town board members agreed a year ago that a moratorium was not needed.
"Now you're running out of time," Mr. Buzon said, because the DEC may be issuing a decision soon and there are leasing interests in the town.
Councilwoman Makely said a public hearing should be held on whether to go ahead with a six-month moratorium.
Board members "owe it to residents," she said.
"Let the public come and tell us how they feel and then make a decision," she said.
"A moratorium for six month should give time for what they (planning board members) need," Mr. Buzon said.
Some town officials said the town's road preservation law would slow any action by fracking companies since it requires bonds and engineering studies.
After the vote, Councilman Herodes said the board should have people in to give their views, as had been approved last month.
Mr. Buzon said he had contacted Friends of Natural gas and Don Airey of Schoharie Valley Watch to give presentations.
Mr. Buzon and Councilman Herodes are to work on setting up dates and locations for the presentations.
Despite the vote, the issue does not seem to be dead.
Though he will not ask the Slottjes to speak to the town planning board, Mr. Buzon said after the vote, "I may very well at this point, contact the Slottjes to help Schoharie County Planning."