By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer
TOWN OF LEE — The Town Board says "not so fast" on a possible ban against the controversial hydrofracking natural gas mining process, and on a developer’s appeal of a Planning Board vote involving the Raven Rock subdivision.
After hearing again Tuesday night from local hydrofracking opponents, the board scheduled a workshop next week to review pros, cons and possible legal impacts before deciding on a moratorium or ban such as those already approved by several other towns in the county.
In addition, the board decided to send the Raven Rock appeal back to the town Planning Board for a re-vote that this time must include its full 7-seat membership. The issue involves the Planning board’s 3-2 vote in August to deny developers’ request to build a single-family structure instead of a duplex as the 17th and final unit at the subdivision off Sleepy Hollow Road.
¿ The board’s hydrofracking workshop will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. If the board opts to vote on a moratorium or ban, it could schedule a public hearing for its next regular meeting Jan. 10 and then decide on the matter that same night, said Lee Supervisor John Urtz. The state’s "comment period" for receiving feedback on its environmental review and proposed regulations for gas drilling and hydrofracking has been extended to Jan. 11.
Members of the Hydro Relief Web volunteer group, who oppose hydrofracking and spoke at Town Board meetings in October and November, appeared again Tuesday and urged steps against the mining process; opponents predict widespread impacts on the environment including water supplies, plus infrastructure including road destruction from heavy truck traffic. Bonnie Reynolds of Hydro Relief Web cited figures indicating that about 700 of the county’s 1,213 square miles are "potentially frackable" areas.
However, Urtz questioned the strength of local bans compared to statewide guidelines being developed, and asked "who picks up the cost" if a "large oil company files suit" against the town because of a ban. Hydro Relief Web members said there is a list of lawyers willing to represent communities for free in helping them draft moratoriums, but Urtz and town attorney David Rapke said they would need to confirm more details about the extent of such service.
Town councilman Patrick Hetherington said the board’s workshop will provide a chance to "digest information" from various sides. The board feels "backed into a corner," and does not have "all the facts to act in the most prudent manner," he added.
The Oneida County Board of Legislators also has taken no action on a moratorium being sought by hydrofracking opponents, and some traveled to Pennsylvania to see natural gas drilling firsthand. The Rome Planning Board this month refused to recommend the Common Council’s proposed ban on hydrofracking in the city, however the city Council voted for it Wednesday night anyway.
¿ On the Raven Rock appeal from Robert Carrier of the subdivision development group, Urtz said that "for an issue as important as this...to the families there," the town Planning Board should "vote as a full board." When that board voted in August, he said, one member was absent while Chairman L. James Jones Jr. did not vote; Jones has said he does not vote unless needed for a tie-breaker.
The Town Board approved a motion calling for a full Planning Board vote on the issue by Jan. 31. That vote would not be subject to further appeals to the Town Board, said Urtz.
Plans for Raven Rock called for 17 duplexes, and some residents opposed the attempted change to a single-family unit because they said it would not conform with the rest of the subdivision. The non-conformance was considered a key factor by the Planning Board in voting against it. However, Hetherington and town councilman Kevin Gallagher questioned whether the board’s action was correct based on zoning ordinance criteria. The Planning Board should "take a good second look at the criteria," said Urtz.
Objecting to the Town Board’s action was attorney Paul Longeretta, representing some Raven Rock residents who opposed the single-family unit variation. He said the action was "beyond the board’s jurisdiction," but Urtz later told him "you have the right to do whatever challenge you see fit."