Supervisors vote "no" on watershed drill ban
By Matthew J. Perry
By a vote of 17 to 1, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday for a resolution that pushes against proposals to close the New York City watershed to natural gas drilling.
Supervisors were free-wheeling both in defense of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which regulates drilling, and with criticism for interests that have called recently for moratoriums on gas exploration within the watershed.
“Let the DEC do its job,” said Hamden Supervisor Wayne Marshfield. “We don’t need big bullies like the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pushing us around. It’s just wrong for one municipality to try to control another. The DEC has been so diligent.”
As a unit, the board presented an attitude of defiance and at times indignation. It was clear that many supervisors viewed potential restrictions on Delaware County gas exploration to be out of step with the state’s intentions to exploit a valuable natural resource, as well as another instance of being singled out for abuse by nonresidents.
“It’s discrimination,” said Chairman Jim Eisel.
All supervisors present agreed that if restrictions are implemented—such as the DEP’s suggestion of a mile-wide buffer around reservoirs—fair compensation for unsold mineral rights should be rewarded to affected landowners.
“I have a slightly personal interest in this matter,” stated Len Utter of Middletown. “My kids own 300 acres inside this buffer zone. If they deny my kids the right to drill, then my children should be compensated.”
Meredith no vote
Keitha Capouya of Meredith cast the single opposing vote. “I’m a great believer in home rule and I believe it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for reparations,” she said. After making a fond reference to her memories of Pepacton, a town drowned by the reservoir that now bears its name, she insisted that the board should think about the nine million downstate residents “who are innocent in this. This kind of request does not take them into consideration.”
“I have grave questions about endangering people whether you like them or not,” she stated.
Andes Supervisor Marty Donnelly, expressing his disagreement, insisted that everyone was concerned for the safety of the water. “We drink the water first, and we don’t want it contaminated either,” he said.
Marshfield pointed out that the DEC and the Delaware River Basin Commission will have the authority to monitor the use and disposal of water throughout the drilling process. Both those agencies have issued assurances that they are willing and able to regulate a gas rush. The county supervisors believe them.
And the supervisors are not about to turn down any potential income stream without a fight. “We finally have something that can put money into people’s pockets,” said Sam Rowe of Hancock, whose town, which is traversed by the Millenium Pipeline, has signed the most leases in the county. The pipeline will send most of the recovered gas to markets downstate.
Bob Homovich of Colchester was blunt in his agreement with Rowe. “What else do we have to reverse the [economic] downslide?” he asked. “Nothing,” answered Donnelly.
The board also received an update on a report that might buttress Donnelly’s assessment. Watershed Commis-sioner Dean Frazier informed the board that an economic impact analysis, commissioned by the county in July, will be previewed next month. The report is intended to outline the consequences of NYC’s land acquisition program and utilize an array of findings to evaluate the overall effect of watershed protection on local communities.
Downeast Group Development Consulting, a firm contracted to draft the report, will unveil a progress report on November 4 and convene a second meeting the next day to receive feedback. Community meetings, at which citizens can make statements and provide relevant information, are scheduled for the third week in November.