With reminders that Hurley is a ‘solidly Republican/Conservative’ community, a crowd of mainly anti-frackers weighed in during a long-awaited public hearing on the matter on March 19.
Hurley is one of the last local municipalities — outside of the Catskills watershed overseen by New York City with its own bans against the controversial procedure — to consider local legislation as a protection against fracking, the deep mining technique for extracting natural gas and oil that has environmental significance. All this while New York State considers what to do about the practice, and local communities set in place longer-term laws.
“I want everyone to remember that this is not a debate,” town supervisor Gary Bellows said at the evening’s start. “We will let Town of Hurley taxpayers speak first; out-of-towners can follow.”
He further emphasized that what was being discussed was only a draft of a proposed law, and introduced its author, town attorney Jack Darwak.
“That’s why we’re holding a public hearing,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Most that spoke from the large audience — made up largely of Hurley residents, many from its western portion close to Woodstock, along with a solid majority of women — were for a moratorium and more permanent Home Rule law that would not only ban the procedure in the town, but also use of its brine on roadways and other byproducts. Most also pinpointed ways in which they felt the draft under discussion did not go far enough in terms of fines and items covered, or that it was written sloppily. The suggestion was that this made the proposed moratorium less likely to be defended successfully in court, should such a circumstance arise.
Several times Darwak rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner at speakers’ comments, or guffawed loudly. He and Bellows reiterated that many spoke of an earlier draft that had been on the town’s website prior to the meeting.
“There’s no downside to this,” several people said.
Someone read a letter from county Association of Town Supervisors’ chairman Carl Chipman of Rochester noting how, as a Republican, he found it a “no-brainer” to pass a strong moratorium against fracking. Others spoke about the fact that jobs in the gas industry weren’t enough to make up for ill effects to the environment. A copy of neighboring Marbletown’s moratorium was handed over to the Hurley board as they were asked why no one used it as a template the first time around.
People spoke about the dangers of fracking the Utica Shale, and not just the Marcellus that has been the focus of debate to date. Many talked about water quality and aquifers.
Then one speaker asked that the board consider both sides of the issue, and look at the possibility of revenue from a full exploitation of the town’s resources.
He was followed by local Conservative party leader Art Bowen, who again used the “no-brainer” term — only this time as a definition for fracking’s safety and its ability to provide good jobs for the local community. It was he who spoke about Hurley being a Republican-Conservative town and characterized the rest of the evening’s talk as “fearmongering.”
“Hurley does not need a resolution since there’s already a statewide moratorium,” Bowen said. “This town should be pro-fracking.”
A hydrologist spoke about fracking’s dangers, showing off samples of dirtied frack water; Kathy Nolan from Catskill Mountainkeeper told about folks she knew in Pennsylvania made deathly ill by the procedure’s presence near their homes. Others read letters from folks who would move to the town should it have the safety of a fracking moratorium or ban, or referenced efforts in other towns, as well as the news about a North Carolina town hit by an ash spill with no protections.
County legislator Don Gregorius talked about countywide efforts to ban what it could on its own roads and property; the rest was up to towns like Hurley, he added. “It’s good business,” he said, while others talked about how one town’s having fracking in the midst of others banning it, could ruin an environment for all.
“The purpose of a moratorium is to give you time to weigh an issue,” said last fall’s Democratic candidate for Bellows’ job, former Woodstock supervisor Tracy Kellogg. “The role of a town board is to follow and support its constituents. In a town like Hurley it’s rare you get this many people out on an issue. It would be poor judgment not to recognize that…You need to enact a serious law.”
Bellows ended up closing the hearing without fanfare and wouldn’t say when the subject of the moratorium, and Darwak’s moratorium, would be returned to for town action.