The Hartwick Town Board approved a moratorium on natural gas drilling by a 3-2 vote Monday after nearly 90 minutes of public comment.
The comments occurred in a public hearing prior to the town board’s December meeting. The crowd, which packed the hearing room, was fairly evenly split between those opposed to the proposed moratorium and those in favor of it. Debate was lively, but generally respectful.
The moratorium, adopted as Town of Hartwick Local Law No. 1 of 2013, places an eight year moratorium on natural gas and petroleum mining in the town. The main reason given for the moratorium was that it would give the town time to finish drafting its new zoning law.
The moratorium can also be extended by another four months by motion of the town board at a regular board meeting.
Many of those opposed to the eight month moratorium argued that it would be redundant, as New York already has a moratorium on natural gas drilling in place, and warned that Hartwick enacting its own moratorium could lead to lawsuits.
“Why duplicate it for nothing,” said Hartwick resident, and Village of Cooperstown Police Chief, Mike Covert.
They also said that drilling was unlikely to come to Hartwick any time soon, due to the area’s geology, while also touting the economic benefits that drilling could have for the area. Potential negative impacts were also downplayed by some opponents.
Most of those supporting the moratorium focused on the dangers that drilling could have to the area’s water supplies.
“Here the whole town is sitting on an aquifer,” said Lee Robbins, health officer for the Town of Hartwick, who expressed concern that drilling sites would not be maintained after companies left. “To poison it, it’s something that would not be able to be reversed.”
The value of the area’s scenic beauty, as well as agriculture and the tourism industry were also touted by those supportive of the moratorium.
“We’re going to be sitting in the catbirds seat,” said Andree Conklin, who said that New York agriculture had the opportunity to take advantage of fracking contamination in other states. “We’re going to be the best place to grow food, with the cleanest water.”
A number of people from outside of Hartwick, also spoke against the moratorium, although people from outside the town speaking at the meeting was looked on unfavorably by some of those supportive of the moratorium.
“The governor is looking at community sentiment. He’s going to take these bans and moratorium as community sentiment,” said Dick Downey of Unatego. “That could mean that your town could be red lined from gas development.”
The validity of a survey, which found 75 percent of respondents in the town of Hartwick were opposed to gas drilling, was also disputed at the meeting.
Despite the strong opinions expressed, a desire to increase communication and find common ground between people on different sides of the issue was also voiced a number of times during the hearing.
After the public comments, the board discussed the proposed law. Town supervisor David Butler expressed a desire to table the issue, but the rest of the board was inclined to vote.
In the end Julianne Sharratt, Ken Hotaling and Butler voted yes, while Fields and Anita Briggs Jones voted no, passing the moratorium.