Middlefield Farmer Stands Up for Landowner Rights
Dairy Farmer and Landowner, Otsego County, New York
My name is Jennifer Huntington and my family has a dairy farm in Cooperstown, NY. On this farm we have about 525 head of cattle, mostly registered Holsteins. We also have a small herd of Belted Galloway beef cows. We grow corn silage, high moisture shelled corn, dry corn, alfalfa, soybeans, and some oats and barley for small grains and straw. By farming over 1,000 acres, we help to keep the land green and well maintained, not only for our operations but also for the public’s enjoyment. In fact, above being visually appealing, we also offer our land to community members for uses such as hunting, fishing and snowmobiling. While we go above and beyond our responsibilities as landowners, it has become clear that some members of our community don’t seem to appreciate the rights that go along with land ownership and are working to restrict what we can do on our land with our own resources.
Given this history of community outreach and altruism, imagine my family’s dismay when we learned many in the local area were against the safe, responsible development of natural gas. Of course the majority of folks with this viewpoint are second home owners and retirees. They appreciate the landscape but want nothing to change regardless of the safety of the process or the benefits it will bring. I have attended many town board meetings but was never able to have a civil conversation with those having opposing views because their claims are seemingly so ignorant of others. Of course, it is predictable that these new resident’s bear a different opinion than the Farmers and laborers who built this country and our New York community.
For example, I particularly dislike when natural gas opponents say the gas industry will bring no jobs they want their children to have. Just look at Williamsport, the newly proclaimed Energy Capital of Pennsylvania, for an example of the good jobs shale development provides. Recently, Senator Bob Casey visited this seventh fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation. The mayor of Williamsport, Gabe Campana, drives a CNG car and is able to fill the car’s tank right at his home. UGI Central Penn Gas customers are paying 20 percent less than their counterparts in other places in Pennsylvania. While all this growth occurs there, Wayne County residents (and their New York State neighbors) wait to find out if they are sitting atop gas that is commercial and 45-50 % of their school students are on free or reduced lunch.
Imagine that, choosing between good paying jobs. Well, I can say with complete certainty that many folks in Upstate New York and the Southern Tier would love to have the ability to choose between the well-paying jobs the natural gas industry will provide. According to the PA Department of Labor, the average wage in the industry is $76,036. Compare this to the per-capita income in the town of Middlefield, which according to the U.S. Census is $22,615. Quite a difference here. It’s more than upsetting to know the only thing keeping us from this type of opportunity is an arbitrary state line and a group of “activists” bent on scaring the public with bad information.
Based on false concerns presented by these new residents turned activists our town enacted a local law banning heavy industry (they really mean natural gas development, which is anything but heavy industry) in July. In September, I filed a lawsuit against the Town of Middlefield (Cooperstown Holstein Corp vs. Town of Middlefield) in response to this misguided statute. We are seeking clarification of the legislation already written, namely ECL Article 23-0303. Our lawsuit is based on this legislation, written in the early 1990’s, that says the State supersedes local laws regarding natural gas production expect for road use and real property taxes. We believe that the local law enacted by the Town of Middlefield is in direct violation of the existing regulations and was written and passed at the expense of the farmers who have historically defined, and supported, this area.
Property owners in favor of responsible drilling for natural gas own over 100,000 acres of land in northeastern PA. Those opposed to exploration and production of natural gas in this area cry that it is not about acreage, but rather one man one vote. Agreed! Many local candidates who ran on a natural gas development platform won their recent elections and polls show clear and overwhelming support for natural gas development.
While some protestors, like those present at the DRBC hearings in November, will always be present, the reality is they don’t represent those who cast their votes for Governors Corbett (R-PA) and Christie (R-N.J.) and they were not reflective of the view of the majority of the population. Rather, their attempts was reminiscent of last February’s venues for public comment, none of which were filled to capacity and each ended early. The truth is the numbers of protestors don’t add up, especially when compared to the strong support indicated in scientific surveys.
Because of all this it is time for those of us who support responsible development to stand up and be counted. Our country needs the energy independence that increased natural gas development will bring and our farmers could use the assistance as well. Having traveled to Pennsylvania to see the industry for myself, I do not understand why there is such a strong resistance mounted against it, and also against the landowners who are being denied the exercise of their property rights.
We are not debating the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing. The Town of Middlefield’s ban prohibits the development of any natural gas wells whether or not fracturing is used. Put simply, this is an issue that must be addressed. Other towns (most of them which possess little or no recoverable gas, ironically) are already moving toward banning natural gas development as well. This lawsuit will set precedent in New York State regarding who has the ability to regulate, and control, the natural gas industry. It will affect all of New York and anyone who has an interest in natural gas development will be impacted. The natural gas industry in New York State can not exist with a patchwork of local rules and regulations. It needs a statewide regulatory agency in charge. New York already has such an agency. It is the Department of Environmental Conservation.
I have established a legal defense fund. All donations are appreciated. Please help fight for your property rights and the right to drill safely and responsibly in NYS.
Middlefield Fund for Landowner Rights
2 Commons Drive
Cooperstown, NY 13326