Town Board bans fracking by-products and enacts private road upkeep law; Also gets moratorium on wind-turbine applications underway
Philipstown’s Town Board Wednesday (Sept. 25) banned fracking by-products and adopted a law requiring agreements for upkeep of private roads in new subdivisions. The board also launched the process for enacting a moratorium on further wind-turbine applications until it can update the 2011 zoning law to deal with such forms of alternate energy.
All three actions came on votes of 5-0 on a night when the board systematically presided over a series of sparsely attended public hearings on proposed laws, mostly involving pro-forma tweaking of zoning-related terms and synchronization of disparate sections of the legal code.
Eagerly awaited by environmental advocates, the ban on use of waste brine and other spin-offs of fracking applies not only to public roads and land but to private property. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves extraction of natural gas from underground rock formations and its by-products can include chemicals, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive materials.
Effective immediately after adoption and the usual filing with the New York Secretary of State, Philipstown’s measure prohibits the “introduction of natural gas waste into any waste-water treatment facility within the town of Philipstown which is either privately operated or operated by the town” government; the “sale of natural gas waste,” and the “application of natural gas waste on any town road, other town-owned property, property owned by a school district, or privately owned real property located within the town of Philipstown.”
The law also stipulates that all bids and contracts for purchasing supplies for constructing or maintaining a town road or other town government facility must state that no materials contain fracking waste and that no one contracted to work on a town road will use fracking waste for the job. Fracking waste is sometimes seen as a road de-icer or dust-control tool.
Opponents cite a long list of environmental hazards associated with current fracking practices or the by-products, as well as social upheaval and civic costs to small communities. During the public hearing that preceded the vote, representatives of two groups, Westchester for Change and Grassroots Environmental Education, presented statements supporting the ban and commending the Town Board for taking action. The environmental organization Riverkeeper also supported the ban and submitted written testimony for the record.
Paula Clair, a member of the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals, read the Grassroots statement but also extemporaneously saluted Supervisor Richard Shea and Town Board members Betty Budney, Dave Merandy, Nancy Montgomery, and John Van Tassel for their assistance. “I really appreciate the Town Board’s leadership in preserving our community, our environment, our wildlife, and the health of our residents,” she said.
Garrison resident Lee Erickson also endorsed the move. “I do appreciate the town for passing this law protecting our waterways and aquifer,” he said, although he hastened to add that another form of “fracking” is used locally for wells with low water yields and does not involve oil and gas. “It’s perfectly safe,” Erickson told the Town Board – which he hopes to join, by winning election in November. Running as a Republican and Conservative, Erickson and three other contenders, including the incumbent Van Tassel, are vying for two Town Board slots.
Upkeep of private dirt roads
In voting to require maintenance agreements among property owners for private dirt roads leading to new subdivisions, the Town Board took up a long-vexing issue. “This is being driven by the fact that up till now we’ve had subdivisions with no right-of-way maintenance agreements,” Shea explained. “We have private roads that fall into disrepair and people come and complain and the town has no leverage. It’s been a problem all over town.” Now, he added, “you won’t be getting any subdivisions without a maintenance agreement” in advance, specifying how the new homeowners will divvy up road upkeep responsibilities.
As “a perfect case in point” of what happens when such agreements are lacking, Shea mentioned Upland Drive, a dirt road connecting with Old Albany Post Road in southern Philipstown. For several years, he said, one resident in particular has objected to various plans to address drainage and road-care needs and “everyone else has to suffer because one person has a lawsuit going.” Even Town Board members got nowhere when trying to resolve the Upland differences, Shea said. “The level of paranoia and distrust of the town down there was unbelievable.”
Van Tassel, an experienced firefighter active in overall emergency preparedness, noted that dirt-road residents may think no problem exists because they can still drive in and out with their SUVs, regardless of the road condition. But firetrucks and ambulances can have difficulties and “it’s very important that they keep access open,” he said.
The board took the first step toward a six-month moratorium on applications for wind-turbine systems – sort of modernistic windmills to produce energy for individual household use – to allow time to revise the zoning code to address their use. The moratorium would not affect the existing application for a special permit for a wind-turbine at a Garrison property.
In a resolution, the board formally announced its intent to consider a moratorium and agreed to send a draft moratorium law to the Putnam County Planning Department, a routine move, and to the Philipstown Planning Board for input. After receiving any comments from those venues, the Town Board must schedule a public hearing on the draft moratorium before finalizing anything.
“We’re not moving on the law tonight,” Shea emphasized. “This is just the beginning of a process.”
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