County wants $81.3B for local fracking ban

By Pauline Liu
The Delaware County Board of Supervisors is demanding that New York State and New York City pay county landowners $81.3 billion in reparations, as the state proposes widening its ban on hydraulic fracturing beyond New York City’s watershed.

The proposed award would be paid out over 60 years. The money would be “for the mineral rights taken from affected landowners and communities.”
The board’s demand is spelled out in Resolution No. 40, which the supervisors approved by a vote of 12-to-4 at their regularly scheduled meeting last Wednesday. Three supervisors were absent.

Eliminating potential
The resolution states that the supervisors chose to take action because “the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has changed direction.” It cites that the city’s proposed changes “would eliminate access to natural gas on at least 80 percent of the county’s land base.”

In order to avoid building a filtration system at the estimated cost of $9 billion, the city is seeking to broaden its ban on fracking in the watershed, from where it gets its unfiltered drinking water. The resolution states that DEC is seeking to add “a protective 4,000-foot buffer area around that watershed in addition the 1,000-foot setback from NYC subsurface infrastructure,” affecting a total of 503,000 acres.

In addition, DEC is proposing to strip property rights from landowners in the towns of Colchester, Hancock and Deposit “within two miles of city infrastructure, including tunnels outside the watershed.” The county estimates these restrictions will apply to an additional 250,000 acres of land. 

Delaware County Commissioner of Watershed Affairs Dean Frazier explained that the plan is unacceptable.

Inappropriate action
“The city’s request for restrictions on land outside the watershed, we didn’t think that was appropriate,” said Commissioner Frazier.

“For the towns of Colchester, Hancock and Deposit, it’s not fair. I’m pleased that the majority recognized what the committee was trying to bring forward,” he added.
Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Jim Eisel explained that the resolution was drawn up by a committee in the county’s Department of Watershed Affairs.

Not about fracking
“It’s not a resolution against or for fracking,” said Chairman Eisel. “It is the taking of mineral rights of that land, so those people who may be sitting right on top of Marcellus Shale gas cannot benefit from these minerals under the ground. I think the people who voted against the resolution thought it was in favor of fracking. We weren’t going to take another vote on that,” Eisel added.

Andes Supervisor Marty Donnelly was one of the four who voted against the resolution.
“I’m totally in favor of reimbursing any landowners who’ve had property rights taken away from them, immediately, not 30 or 40 years from now like with the reservoir,” said Donnelly. “I voted, ‘No,’ because I feel we’ve been given ‘de facto’ recognition of the 4,000- and 1,000-foot buffers, which have never been approved by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors.”
Supervisor Donnelly explained his objection was in part to the way that the resolution was written.

“When you write a resolution like this, it gives the implication that it (the buffers) is accepted by us,” he said. “Let them negotiate it with us and if they don’t agree, then let them go to court. I’ve talked to a couple of attorneys and when you vote, ‘Yes,’ you give blanket recognition to their plans,” he added.

Last December, his town has passed a six-month moratorium against heavy industry to prevent fracking, in the event that the ban on gas drilling in the watershed is lifted someday.
Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller also voted against the resolution, but offered no comment about her vote. Roxbury Supervisor Tom Hynes voted in favor of the resolution, as did Bovina Supervisor Tina Mole.

A copy of the resolution is being sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, numerous lawmakers, and the commissioners of DEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

“I’m sure we’ll be talking with folks from the City of New York,” said Commissioner Frazier.
In response. DEC’s Director of Public Information Emily DeSantis issued the following statement. “If high-volume hydraulic fracturing moves forward in New York, it would be prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds because these are the only two unfiltered water supplies in the state and these areas need to control sediment,” she wrote. “With drilling, roads and well pads will need to be constructed and truck traffic will increase. These activities increase sediment runoff carried by storm water that flows into the water bodies in these watersheds. New York City and Syracuse do not have the means to deal with this sediment.  If these cities were to be forced to filter their water, it would cost billions of dollars. The only way to mitigate this risk is to prohibit drilling in these areas,” DeSantis added. She did not address the county’s request for reparation.