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March 9, 2012

In These Otsego Hills: The most perfect village... home to heavy industry?

We suspect we would get a whole lot more accomplished if we spent less time thinking, pondering and musing about things. In fact, there is a good possibility we might actually have completed our goal of cleaning the basement if we only focused on the task at hand, instead of trying to figure out the world around us. It almost makes us wonder if it is possible to think too much about things. We certainly hope not because should that be the case, we are in deep trouble.

For example, after hearing so much about the Town of Middlefield’s zoning law of late, we finally decided that it was probably time, if we really  wanted to know what was init, to bite the bullet, sit down and read it. So we did... all 31 pages. And while mu ch of  what we read we found to beabout what we had expected, there were, nonetheless, a few surprises.

The law is very clear in its prohibition of “all oil, gas or solution mining and drilling.”

It is equally clear in what it means by this when it states, in Article II – Definitions, that this refers to “The process of exploration and drilling through wells or subsurface excavations for oil or gas, and extraction, production, transportation, purchase, processing, and storage of oil or gas ...” Now, although we are not certain, we suspect this is not a prohibition on the transportation, purchase and storage of oil and gas used in the town of Middlefield to heat homes and businesses. It would seem to us that that would be quite beyond the  pale although we do knowthere are other ways to heat one’s home.

We also need to point out that in addition to prohibiting all oil, gas or solution mining and drilling, the zoning ordinance also prohibits all “heavy industry.” And we must note that we found this prohibition to be somewhat less clear in that the definition of heavy industry does not seem to be quite as straight forward as the oil and gas prohibition.

Again, under Article II – Definitions we read the definition of “heavy industry” to be “a use characteristically employing some of, but not limited to the following: smokestacks, tanks, distillation or reaction columns, chemical processing or storage equipment, scrubbing towers, waste-treatment or storage lagoons, reserve pits, derricks or rigs, whether temporary or permanent. Heavy industry  has the potential for largescaleenvironmental pollution when equipment malfunction or human error occurs...” Yikes! Heavy industry can be defined in part by its smokestack?

All these years, we had thought we were the only ones who actually thought that the smokestack rising erect from the power plant at the now Bassett Medical Center bespoke of an industrial complex. Granted, we did think that when said smokestack was painted white, thus removing its original rust-toa-protective-coating finish,  it helped to mitigate everso slightly that Gary, Ind., industrial look of our youth. But now it seems that our original, and we might note, still current, thinking about the smokestack has some credibility.

Needless to say Bassett’s smokestack looms large in our backyard. In fact we suspect we have one of the better views of it when the leaves are off the trees. And while there is no doubt that it certainly dwarfs the smaller, yet more picturesque, church spires of the village, it also seems to be the most dominant feature of the village’s landscape as one approaches the village from the south on Route 28. And, as we read the definition of “heavy industry” we tend to think there are other parts of it which might also be applied to Bassett.

For example, we know for a fact, since we can see it out our family room window, that Bassett has a rather sizable “tank” filled with liquid oxygen, which according to our research “is classified as an industrial gas [in what we can but conclude is an industrial tank] and is widely used for industrial and medical purposes.”

Beyond that we have to think Bassett must also have some sort of “chemical storage equipment.” Although we certainly are not privy to what chemicals might be in  use at the hospital, we haveto think there are any number of them used for all sorts of things from cleaning and disinfecting to chemotherapy treatment.

Also, we suspect the explanation that “Heavy industry has the potential for largescale environmental pollution when equipment malfunction or human error occurs,” might also be applicable to Bassett.

We have to think there is always a potential for the tanker trucks that deliver oil to Bassett to spring a leak allowing pollution of the Susquehanna River or the storm drains that are clearly marked as being part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And there must be a potential for some sort of unwanted environmental pollution should there be some unintentional mishandling of medical waste. And while we think there is a possibility of such pollution problems, we certainly think that the probability of such problems is very low.

Nonetheless all of this leads us to conclude that it is probably a good thing that Bassett is situated on the west, and not the east, side of the Susquehanna River although, if memory serves us correctly, the village of Cooperstown does not seem opposed to having a hospital within its limits. In fact, we would hope that Cooperstown would fully understand, as we do, not only the medical, but also the economic, benefits of the hospital to the surrounding community. And we suspect that no matter what definition might be applied to Bassett, it is here to stay as the benefits of Bassett surely far outweigh any risks it might present.

While we realize that there are undoubtedly some who will agree with our somewhat tongue-in-cheek application of Middlefield’s definition of “heavy industry” to Bassett, we also realize there will be those who will think the idea is utterly preposterous. And who knows, they may be right. But then again, they may not be. It is, after all, a question of perspective.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 607-547-8124 or by e-mail at

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