The town of Middlefield’s zoning law as it pertains to heavy industrials uses, particularly gas and oil extraction, is headed to court.

It was almost inevitable that a lawsuit would be filed to challenge the law by either a landowner or gas company that wanted to tap into the rich Marcellus shale gas deposits that underlie much of this region of New York.

While we generally like to see people resolve their differences outside the courtroom, we’re glad to see the lawsuit was filed.

Jennifer Huntington, of the Cooperstown Holstein Corporation, said this week that somebody had to do it and she decided to be the one.

Huntington, who has signed a gas lease, said it is her contention that Middlefield and other towns that have adopted prohibitions against gas drilling are not empowered to do so. She cites Environmental Conservation Law that says regulations of the industry is up to the state.

But Middlefield town attorney David Clinton said the town is not regulating gas drilling, it is prohibiting it. “It’s not regulated. It’s not permitted in the town. There is a substantial difference,” he said.

We would tend to agree with Clinton that prohibiting a use is not the same as regulating one. We also like the idea of home rule that allows a municipality to determine for itself what kind of future it wants.

And we don’t agree with Huntington’s attorney who believes it would create a patchwork of laws governing gas exploration if towns could individually “regulate” it. It seems to us that it would simply boil down to places you can or can’t drill, not how you go about the drilling. We believe it is important to get this question answered, and applaud Huntington’s willingness to be the one to ask the court for a resolution. It sometimes requires a fair amount of courage to stand up for what you believe in a small town when there are many who disagree.

Both attornies agree that this case is a question of law and should make it to a judge quickly. It could be many months before the judge issues a decision, but we look forward to it. Of course, whatever the judge’s decision, it is likely that it will be appealed, keeping the issue in the courts for some time to come.

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