AUBURN — After a spirited conversation regarding three local laws proposing to prohibit hydrofracking, the Cayuga County Planning Board’s review committee voted Thursday morning to take no action.
The NYS General Municipal Law 239 Review Committee commenced its 9 a.m. meeting by reviewing three local laws: two hydrofracking moratoriums and one hydrofracking ban.
The towns of Owasco and Sennett proposed moratoriums, while the town of Summerhill proposed a ban.
Speaking about Sennett’s moratorium first, Bruce Natale, the county’s environmental engineer, said he worried the town’s moratorium would stifle the transport route of petroleum extracted from existent Aurelius’ wells. Natale also disapproved of Sennett’s definition of radioactive material, saying the town’s law would usurp federal law and make the disposal of low-level radioactive materials -- such as smoke detectors and microwaves -- difficult.
“(Their) definition of radioactive material was so broad that it appears to violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Natale said.
The engineer said through parts of the town’s proposed moratorium, Sennett overstepped the limits of its authority. Natale also found issue with Owasco’s radioactive material definition.
A few committee members didn’t share Natale’s concerns.
“The scope of what you’re looking at seems so far afield from what we’re looking at,” Geoff Milz, a county planner, said.
Defending the towns, Milz added that he didn’t believe the towns were attempting to control waste disposal.
“I think what they’re trying to do is prevent natural gas drilling from ruining the rural character of their towns,” Milz said. “I don’t think they’re trying to prevent interstate commerce.”
Eileen O’Connor, county director of environmental health, agreed.
“I certainly don’t think it was their intent to prevent people from disposing of their smoke detectors,” O’Connor said.
Doug Kierst, the Soil and Water Conservation District’s district field manager, said he wished Sennett and Owasco’s nearly identical moratoriums didn’t prohibit all types of drilling.
“In this era of foreign oil, they can’t even put in a regular gas well,” he said.
Because the committee couldn’t reach a consensus, members motioned to take no action. In the cases of both Owasco and Sennett, the committee voted 3-1 to approve the motion. Natale cast the only “no” vote.
Next, the committee turned its attention to Summerhill’s hydrofracking ban. Besides Natale’s concerns about the definition of radioactive materials, the main concern expressed was the town’s timing.
“They just seem to be jumping the gun,” Kierst said. “It seems like not a lot of facts, like it’s based on hearsay.”
Nick Colas, an analyst for the county’s planning department, said a moratorium -- at this time -- would be a safer move for towns.
“A ban is a bigger step legally and opens them up to more (lawsuits),” he explained.
Unable to reach a majority decision, the committee motioned again to vote to take no action on Summerhill’s ban. For a third time, the committee voted 3-1 to approve the motion, with Natale once again voting no.
By voting to take no action, the committee indicated it didn’t believe the laws would have any significant inner municipal impacts and didn’t wish to share its opinion. The choice to adopt or ditch the laws remains in the town boards’ hands.
Staff writer Samantha House can be reached at 282-2282 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Citizen_House.