SUMMERHILL — A proposed law banning natural gas drilling in Summerhill was praised by some as a tool for protecting the community while others berated it as a violation of landowner rights and fiscally irresponsible.
During an hour-long public hearing Tuesday, more residents spoke in favor of the proposed land use law prohibiting natural gas or oil drilling within town limits than against it. Proponents of the law said it rightfully protects the community from noise, water and dust pollution and protects the town’s roads and infrastructure while opponents said it will result in a legal war the town cannot afford while also infringing on land owners’ rights.
Resident Shannon Caldwell said she did not move to Summerhill to live in an industrial area, and urged the board to pass the resolution, which was not voted on Tuesday.
Board members said they want time to consider the public comments that came from many of the 40 residents in attendance before they vote. No time frame for a decision was announced.
Caldwell added that she is concerned that allowing the natural gas industry to conduct high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking, could significantly depress property values.
“I don’t have stocks, I don’t have bonds — I have my property,” Caldwell said. “That’s what I’ve invested in. If I don’t have that, I don’t have anything.”
Ted Norman, a member of the town’s planning board, spoke against the law not because he is pro-hydrofracking, but because he believes it will infringe on property owners’ land rights and because it could result in the town getting sued by the gas industry.
The town of Dryden is being sued by Denver-based natural gas company Anschutz Exploration because of the municipality’s zoning law banning gas drilling. According to the lawsuit filed last month, the company contends that New York amended its environmental conservation law in 1981 giving the state the power to regulate the oil and gas industries while leaving towns to regulate the use of roads.
“This is going to put a tax burden on all of us if we get sued,” Norman said, as several in the audience applauded. “The town doesn’t have the money to put into this.”
According to Summerhill’s proposed law, the town is not relying on the state’s environmental regulations to prevent drilling and is instead relying on land use law, which falls within the town’s jurisdiction.
Deputy Town Supervisor Chris Ryan said the fear of a lawsuit is not a reason to back down from protecting the town’s resources, its residence or its infrastructure, a stance that drew applause from several in attendance.
“Big land owners are the ones that get hurt by this law,” Ryan said, referring to those who will not be able to lease or sell their land for hydrofracking. “It’s the small people that don’t want this. We’re not in this for the money — we’re in this for my kids, we’re in this for your kids. If we get sued, we get sued. Are we going to want our way of life or the monetary value?”
Resident Linda Plunkett said she believes the law is to broad and added that the board is neglecting residents who do not agree with the ban.
Plunkett also said it is too early to pass judgment on hydrofracking since too much biased information has been perpetuated by both sides, a sentiment echoed by several in attendance.
“We need unbiased information. Not from the gas companies or people with agendas against them,” Plunkett said. “We need information before we get a law. We don’t need to pass this just because other towns have.”
Staff writer Nate Robson can be reached at 282-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenRobson.