Milford Manners Missing Where Natural Gas Is Concerned
The Town of Milford, New York, Otsego County is in the midst of a zoning update. Guess who has shown up to assist the community in revising their current zoning law? If you said the Great Davidski (Attorney David Slottje), you win the prize. Slottje, of course, is one of the two lawyers, his wife Helen being the other, who constitute the Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC). Headquartered in Ithaca, New York, the CEDC is funded by the Park Foundation and Slottje is promoting legislation to ban all forms of natural gas development in the town. This is a continuing saga, of course, that we have written about many times on this blog. This time is different, however, as Slottje, in the role of grand pontificator, dispensed Park’s viewpoint for literally hours – that all natural gas development anywhere in upstate New York be squashed.
Quiet! We’re Zoning Out Natural Gas!
Milford’s current zoning law includes 22 different sections. Slottje took the committee word by word through the entire document, which required a total of four excruciating hours. No one from the audience was permitted to comment during this time period. Everyone who wanted to talk had to wait until Slottje and the committee finished their work to do so.
Leaving aside the highly inappropriate intent to target a specific business that is both legal and is already heavily regulated by the State of New York, it is undeniable there will be unintended consequences on other industries. This obvious point was made by several members of the audience who questioned the town’s actions and motives. A member of the audience from Milford, Kimberly More, suggested the Town was putting itself in a position to be sued by enacting such discriminatory anti-business zoning that directly contradicts Environmental Conservation Law.
Slottje scoured every aspect of the zoning law in an attempt to rule out any possibility of natural gas development, making it clear it was all about superseding the state and nothing about land use. This motivated one woman to stop Slottje and ask, “What does this section have to do with gas?” His answer was short and to the effect he was changing it to make sure there weren’t any loopholes, anywhere in the law. Slottje has completely redone their zoning law, changing even irrelevant wording, with the specific objective of blocking natural gas development.
Now for Public Comment, If You Agree with Us
Everyone sat patiently as the board discussed every detail of every line without a single interruption. Finally, after four hours of the former dollar store owner lecturing the board the public was allowed to ask questions and make comments. However, when anyone made comments, the board member seemed irritated and frequently stopped the questions saying they weren’t relevant. Several taxpayers took offense at this. You can see for yourself what happened when former New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Mike Zagata, tried to make his comment. One would think a comment from a DEC Commissioner would be welcomed, but not so much… The video below demonstrates how the board reacted when their work was questioned:
Before anyone else had time to think of questions for the board members closed the meeting, suggesting public input was less than welcome. Several unanswered questions from town residents remained. The board will, most likely, hear these questions when they hold a public hearing but itappears they had little desire for input at the beginning of the process when some might consider it’s most valuable. Rather, the entire focus of the meeting was on doing the bidding of the Park Foundation and an anti-gas political constituency.
The Town of Milford would do well to recognize zoning by applause is a ticket to court. Yes, the Dryden case was a win for the idea of bans, but that decision is not a precedent and the Middlefield case has yet to be decided. Read about the law applicable to these matters here and decide for yourself. There is no free lunch at the courthouse. Everyone is still obligated to follow the law, even if the political winds blow strong the other way.
Helping Milford or Lobbying Milford?
You can watch the whole meeting unfold below. In the first video you can hear Slottje admitting his plan for Milford, to ban natural gas exploration through zoning in the town. Review this video carefully and decide for yourself – is Slottje serving the Town of Milford or is he lobbying the Town of Milford from his non-profit perch funded from the Park Foundation (bearing in mind a non-profit, unless specifically registered as a political entity, is not supposed to spending any significant resources on such activity):
Here are some videos of Slottje and the board going through the current zoning law, looking for places to squelch any natural gas rights of landowners:
Watch here as four hours of sticking it to the gas industry ends and the meting is opened for public comment:
This meeting in the Town of Milford demonstrated just how the Park Foundation works through the CEDC and exercises its influence, encouraged by the wishful thinking of some local elected officials reveling in their power to impose their will without regard to the law. It’s wasn’t a pretty sight and to witness a respected former DEC Commissioner treated the way Mike Zagata was treated was enough to make anyone cringe. If this is home rule, then we’re all in trouble because everyone’s rights are at the whim of the majority at any given time. What happened to the rights of landowners? What happened to the rights of individuals who may not be in the majority? What’s happened to Milford?