Appalachian Basin

Laws of Unintended Consequences

In Tompkins County, NY, unintended consequences are on the horizon if its legislature passes a new road preservation law. For a balance news coverage of the hearing click here.  A quick glance suggests the proposed amendment (LegalNotice-1014 (Road Preservation Law) is designed to protect the taxpayers from the cost of repairing existing roads damaged by heavy use but, upon further analysis, it becomes readily apparent this law is meant to hinder natural gas local business development.

This excerpt, taken from the purpose section of the proposed law, illustrates the problem:

The Tompkins County Legislature has determined the County is facing a variety of impending major development efforts that may result in extraordinary, high-intensity traffic to and from development sites, causing significant and measurable damage to County roads that jeopardizes the health and safety of residents and others who use those roads…. The Legislature has further determined that it is in the best interest of taxpayers and the general public to assign responsibility for the repair of damage to County roads attributable to such high-intensity use,…

Obviously, gas development is the target here because the moratorium was recently lifted and until now all other construction projects (Home Depot, Walmart, office buildings) were not considered high-intensity traffic. The only thing this road preservation law will do is cost local business its competitive advantage inside the county. As the videos below will show, arbitrary trip counts of 1,000 and weight limits of 30 tons will dramatically effect local business.

[myyoutubeplaylist ROD-iEwCBlY, LYUaIegnLT8, tUb5GlL-cZo]

The proposed law and others like it suffer from two major problems.  The first is that there is no way to design a law that is fair to every user and any law that attempts to regulate the natural gas industry will inevitably drag in other industries such as agriculture, quarrying and construction.  

The second problem is the lack of flexibility involved in a law of this sort.  Because it arbitrarily demands bonding, it doesn’t allow for negotiated solutions that may be  better.  A bond will only ensure a road is brought back to previous conditions, while a negotiated private road use agreement can result in a far better road than before, as has been the case in town after town in Pennsylvania and New York.  A private road use agreement also avoids the collateral damage to other industries.  Ironically, a town or county always has the leverage to get such an agreement by virtue of its power to enact a road preservation law, but, only if it doesn’t actually use it.

Good judgement and fair reasoning prevailed at the end of this meeting, as Government Operations Committee Chair Mike Lane moved to delay consideration until the Legislature’s next meeting September 6. This movement resulted in a 11-4 vote which implies the majority of the committee members are concerned about the law.

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