Schoharie looks at changes to restrict fracking


By David Avitabile

The Town of Schoharie is considering a change to its land use law that would make it much more difficult for hydrofracking to ever occur in the town.
While not a ban, the changes strengthen the definitions in the current land use law to make it explicit that fracking is not an allowed use in the town.
"It's not a ban," said Supervisor Gene Milone. "It's as close to a ban as you can get."
Jeremy Rosenthal, chairman of the planning board, presented the proposed changes at a special meeting last week.
The changes will be sent to the county planning commission for review and a public hearing will be held Monday at the Schoharie town hall starting at 8pm.
Board members are expected to act on the law in December.
Some Schoharie officials had argued that since the town's current land use law does not allow fracking, it would not be allowed. Mr. Milone and others wanted the land use law strengthened.
Town board members passed a moratorium in the spring against gas exploration, extraction and underground storage of natural gas and asked the planning board to review the land use law.
Mr. Rosenthal said the land use law, along with the town comprehensive plan and other documents, were reviewed.
"The planning board believes that current ambiguity in the land use law provides the opportunity for uses that are seemingly not identified as an allowable use," he said. The ambiguity could allow uses identified in the moratorium "to be skillfully argued as allowable uses" and "snuck in the back door."
The land use amendment tightens the definitions on allowable uses and makes them clearer, Mr. Rosenthal said.
"It removes ambiguity on allowable uses from the land use law."
For example, one change to the zoning law recommends adding the following section, "In no event shall 'industrial use' be construed to mean, be, or include land application facilities, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration, extraction or production wastes disposal/storage facility, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration, extraction or production wastes dump, natural gas compression facility, natural gas processing facility, underground injection, or underground natural gas storage."
The changes are slight but effective, Mr. Milone said.
"The changes are not that drastic," he said.
There are better places to drill than Schoharie, he added, "but we can't just sit back. We have to make sure we've done everything possible to protect our community."
Mr. Milone said Ithaca attorney David Slottje helped with rewriting the definitions at no cost to the town.
Councilman Alan Tavenner noted that Mr. Slottje has spoke out against fracking and also noted that Mr. Slottje does not have any responsibility to act in the interest of the town.
If a company wants to frack in the town, company officials would have to apply to the zoning board of appeals for a use variance, which is very difficult to get, or ask for the law to be changed.