Natural Gas Bans Cause Impacts Across County Lines
A couple months ago the Town of Butternuts, New York welcomed Attorney David Slottje to a town board meeting because the town was considering enacting a moratorium. Slottje presented his powerpoint and discussed different steps the town board would need to take to put one in place. A little later, Butternuts held their public hearing and sent their draft moratorium to the Otsego County Planning Board for approval. Last Wednesday, there was a public meeting to discuss the moratorium further. It was a very revealing discussion.
Otsego County Gets It Half-Right
Wednesday, which, ironically, was the same day as their meeting, the town board received feedback from the Otsego County Planning Board. The County properly informed the Town of Butternuts it needed to remove the section (affecting five pages) prohibiting gathering lines in the town because it would cause problems from county to county regarding the distribution of natural gas. That was certainly correct but only addresses half the problem.
Why has the Otsego County Planning Department not considered, also, the impact of the proposed Butternuts law on the economic development policies of adjoining communities in Chenango County? The Chenango County Economic Development Strategy clearly states, on page 10, the following:
“Another strategy calls for the County to explore and develop low cost energy sources, such as natural gas.”
Obviously, a Town of Butternuts law that would prohibit natural gas development in geologic units straddling municipal borders with adjoining communities of Guilford, New Berlin and Norwich, would have a detrimental impact on those communities. This is not addressed in the county’s General Municipal Law § 239 review, which restricted its comments to the issue of pipelines. Otsego County clearly needs to take a broader look at this issue and consider the full range of inter-municipal impacts. The Section 239 review is a serious responsibility to arbitrate issues of broader regional implications and it is failing in that mission.
Notwithstanding this particular failure, the towns enacting these moratoriums are, finally, getting pushback from counties who are starting to recognize natural gas development cannot be prohibited in one town without affecting others. That’s overdue. Pipeline issues are only the beginning of the problem, however, and Otsego County never discusses the real problem with a moratorium. The moratorium itself is damaging to surrounding towns and the economic development policies of neighboring counties. County planning agencies need to start addressing these broader issues in their reviews. They would certainly do so with respect to any other development issue.
Behind Closed Doors
The meeting where the county comments were officially received and discussed by the Butternuts Town Board began at 7 p.m. The three members of the board opposed to natural gas exploration walked into the room with a revised copy of the draft moratorium from the Slottjes. This draft included the suggested changes made from the Otsego Planning Board, much to the astonishment of the other members of the board.
The other two members of the town board, who support natural gas exploration, didn’t even know an email had been received from the Slottjes. When they questioned this the supervisor told them he hadn’t heard back from the planning board until late in the afternoon so couldn’t send out an email until earlier that evening. Apparently he still had enough time to inform the other members of the board, contact the Slottjes and to work on the revisions he had just received, though. This is democracy?
If they had chosen to enact the moratorium they would have needed a supermajority vote (4-1 or 5-0). Knowing there are two natural gas supporters on the board, watch how quickly the antis decide to present the Slottjes revisions to the county after a new public hearing.
The members of the board opposed to natural gas exploration also discussed a grant potentially available to Otsego County towns. These grants will be given as long as the towns write letters to the county supporting them in their “going green” movement. Hmm…
Check out the video below.
Don’t You Have a Town Attorney?
Interestingly, but not surprising, the town board did not give their own Town Attorney any opportunity to offer his input on what Butternuts should do. We have seen this time and time again.
It’s a bit like the time when the late Michael Jackson climbed up on top of his car to speak to a crowd. It’s evident the town boards have their own personal agendas when they do this. Why else would they not use their Town Attorney who they already pay for unbiased professional legal advice? More to the point, why are they accepting “free” legal advice from an attorney funded by a special interest group (the Park Foundation) to promote a particular viewpoint?
Who Has the Real Conflict of Interest?
The board also discussed their code of ethics. According to the State of New York, there really is nothing wrong with the code of ethics the Town of Butternuts currently uses. The only suggestion was to create an ethics board for the town. Some members of the town board felt the whole code needed to be thrown out and the town needed to adopt a different code. However, just about every member of the audience, along with the two board members supporting natural gas, were extremely confused as to why the anti-natural gas majority wanted to start over again.
An anti- natural gas town member discusses ethics and the moratorium in the first video below. In the second, a different member of the audience requests a strong code of ethics on the dubious proposition the natural gas industry coming to New York will be tempting to everyone. His argument is a just a bit slanted, don’t you think?. I wonder if he knows one woman on the board is married to a man who owns a solar energy service.
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Instead of adopting a whole new code of ethics, most of the audience felt the board should simply make the required changes to the existing one.
Foiled by Failure to Honor FOIL Request
A Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request was filed with the Town of Butternuts after they sent their draft moratorium to the county for review. It requested all the transactions and information from contacts each town board member had with the Slottjes. The request was denied and is now being appealed to Albany. Watch below as the Butternuts Town Supervisor talks in circles.
Many members of the audience were upset the board has not released the requested information from the filed FOIL request and they hope the town will slow down in pushing this ill-conceived moratorium through. They were concerned, also, with how the board handled the code of ethics because they felt the real conflict of interest is with the anti-natural gas board member who could potentially see higher solar sales if natural gas exploration is banned from Butternuts.
The Butternuts picture, as the reader can see, is hopelessly muddled by the interjection of special interest politics into the normal business of the town. When a majority, elected on the basis of a single issue, takes over the reins of power it almost always leads to chaos as new officials trip over themselves in their haste to achieve their sole objective. Butternuts, unfortunately, is no exception. How it will all end is unclear but the law and due process are suffering in the meantime.