The Town of Olive saw its meeting hall packed for its monthly meeting Tuesday night, April 10. And everyone left happy, according to the town’s Secretary to the Supervisor, Susan Horner.

What drew the crowd was a resolution, passed unanimously, to place a moratorium on the natural gas extraction process known as hydrofracking, or “fracking” as it’s become commonly known, so the Olive town board could then study other, more permanent legislation to protect it.

The resolution calls for a local law to be drafted that will place a one year moratorium on the exploration, extraction, disposal and storage of natural gas, and it calls for the inclusion of a ban on “the transportation of any by-product of hydro-fracking on any roads that traverse the Town of Olive.”

The matter was originally proposed by the ad hoc group Olive Defense Against Fracking (ODAF), members of which attended an Olive Workshop Meeting on April 2, where presentations were made to the board on the dangers of fracking, on other anti-fracking efforts throughout the region, and listing several of the long-term options the town could take.

The issues discussed included use of Olive roads for the transportation of fracking detritus over roads running through the town. A similar measure to ban use of the material known as brine for snow and ice removal throughout the county is currently headed towards a county legislative vote, with a public hearing set for Ulster County Community College on Tuesday, April 17.

The Town of Woodstock is working through the process of a local law that will ban hydrofracking aspects through an amendment to its zoning law, and has resolved not to allow fracking brine to be used on its roads.

The options that ODAF presented at the April 2 and April 10 meetings included a Community Bill of Rights, advocated and defended by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), and stressing civil rights issues in a community’s banning of fracking and similar industrialized processes.

“As human beings, we inherently have the right to our lives, the value of our property, the cleanliness of our land, water and air, and a safe place to live,” was how the group presented that option, noting that 141 such laws have been passed in New York and other states in recent years…although only nine of those have pertained specifically to hydrofracking. They added that of all the laws passed, only five were challenged in court to date, with three wins and two losses for the towns involved.

“It is CELDF’s view that had they appealed the decision, they would have won,” noted a representative from the Olive Defense group in an e-mail briefing on its proposal that went out this past week. “Corporations want to avoid the bad publicity of saying, ‘our right to make money is more important than your civil rights to life, and a safe place to live.’”

The second law the group was proposing was land use based, to be made part of local planning laws.

 

Moratorium in a week 

On April 2, Olive Town Supervisor Bert Leifeld asked if ODAF would accept a moratorium on hydrofracking so his board could have time to research and examine the civil rights ordinance, and possibly draft a land-use ordinance.

“The moratorium can be passed in a week. But you don’t pass a law in a week,” Leifeld said. “We need public hearings, we need discussion, we need to talk about this with our lawyers, and talk to CELDF. We have to talk about whether or not the ban would apply to county roads that run through the town boundaries. Personally, I think it will.”

On Tuesday, April 10, that moratorium passed unanimously, to much acclaim from the assembled audience. Last week, a similar moratorium passed in the neighboring Town of Rochester, at the urging of their own Rochester Defense Against Fracking (RDAF), and similar moves are underway throughout the region.

According to local geologists, it is questionable whether there is enough accessible natural gas under the Catskills to warrant fracking in our area, and New York City has passed its own moratorium on use of the process in its watersheds. But the issue is now national, and growing, even though a Foxnews.com poll on April 10 showed 65 percent of its audience supporting fracking.

Leifeld, for his part, ended both his April 2 and April 10 meetings by noting how he’d be bringing up the idea of fracking moratoriums, and the stronger legislation that’s been proposed, at the county and regional meetings of supervisors he attends. To which the anti-fracking audience responded with ovations both times.

Horner noted that beyond the fracking issue, Tuesday night’s meeting was calm and quiet…something of a rarity for Olive this year.++