Marcellus Shale

Slottje Duo Hits A Wall in Bath

Neil Vitale
Steuben County, NY Organic Dairy Farmer
Steuben County Land Owners Coalition

Who has the most to lose if Marcellus Shale natural gas is not developed in New York? The landowners, farmers and the middle class, of course. I’ve got another question: who has the most to gain? Tough, right?  Would you believe it’s the second homers in our communities, aided by the Park Foundation, to keep new industries out and preserve the land they love to have us maintain and pay for. But what do they care if we lose our farms? It just means more land for them to subdivide and build summer homes on. Well, Steuben County is not going to take this treatment anymore, as I saw first hand the other night in Bath.

The Park Foundation lawyers, David and Helen Slottje, recently hit a wall when they tried to sell their wares in the form of a natural gas ban to the Village of Bath, New York. Usually, it seems they stick to fringe communities where natural gas development would never occur anyway, but this time around they thought they could pull the wool over the eyes of Steuben County residents.  They probably thought this was another Binghamton where there wouldn’t be any exploration in the Village itself and it would, therefore, be ripe for exploitation. Boy, did they get a surprise from the Village of Bath Town Board.

Pultney Park, Bath, NY

Thankfully, the Village Board saw straight through their act and used common sense on March 19th, when they voted 5 to 0 not to pass the Local Law #3 – Gas & Petroleum Extraction Moratorium. That’s right, not only did they not vote to enact it; they didn’t even table the proposed legislation. They unanimously decided this was not in the best interest of their village or Steuben County. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. The Slottje’s won’t be able to cite Bath as a win in their silly number game.

As a member of the board of the Steuben County Land Owners Coalition and the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY), I was very impressed by the legislative ability and foresight of the village town board. Our Steuben County Land Owners Coalition has been actively educating the board members of the 160 Towns and 65 Villages of the county on the high cost of natural gas moratoriums. It appears Bath took to heart the information we shared in the letter and fact sheet, using the Town of Wayne, where local officials fell under the Slottje’s spell, as an example.

The Coalition has over 2,000 acres in Wayne, ready to lease. To quote our letter, “In effect the Town has just deprived those land owners of  their mineral rights.  Those rights are, at least to some degree, protected by state law (ECL23-0303(2)).  The Town has now opened the door to lawsuits from either the land owners, the natural gas companies, or any of the national non-profit legal organizations designed to protect land owners rights in just this type of situation.” To put a cost on the action taken by Wayne, it could miss out on $7,315,000 in tax revenue alone.  This is a point on which the JLCNY is helping to educate communities. And, that’s not even considering lease or royalty money. What’s more, if suits are brought against the Town it could be liable for up to $50 million. This is important information for any community considering a ban to examine prior to making a decision.

Aside from our coalition’s efforts, some towns have invited Attorney Ed Zaengle to their board meetings asking him to give a counter presentation to Slottje’s. His presentation goes above and beyond explaining all the risks to the bans and moratoriums towns are trying to enact.

While Bath may be one of those communities not likely to see development within the village limits, they very wisely chose not to send the Binghamton message that their doors are not open to new business.  They see the revival of the economy just over the border in Pennsylvania.

The landowners and residents of the State of New York thank the village board telling the business community Bath and New York are both open for new business.

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