The Strange History of Oxford’s 2007 Gas Law

Procedure to Follow for Local Law

Roger Monaco, Town of Oxford lawyer

1         Local Law introduced by Board Member at Board Meeting

Law must be presented in final form at least 7 days before voted on.

2.    SEQRA (environmental impact)

The Planning Board and the Town Board must state that there is NO environmental impact connected to the Local Law.  If either Board feels that there is an environmental impact, then STOP and contact lawyer for further instructions.

3. Referral to County and Village Boards and Planning Agencies; they have (30) thirty days from receipt to comment. Suggested that information be sent via certified mail/ return receipt requested

4.  Date for public hearing – Newspaper – 10 days before hearing. Publish changes only.

5.  Public Hearing held.

6. Majority vote needed at meeting, except majority plus 1 to override County; also exceptions if Protest Petition is filed.  Contact lawyer if Protest Petition is filed. STOP and contact lawyer.

7. File Local Law with Secretary of State within 20 days (one copy for Secretary of State, one for Town Clerk’s records, and keep proof of filing). Both copies must be certified.

8. Publish Local Law. (Lawyer suggests that complete Law be published.)

 

Open Letter from Ellen Anderson, 4/9/13

(Scroll down to review the step by step history of this controversy over an illegal law passed to promote fracked gas drilling in a community which is overwhelmingly opposed to fracking.)

OxfordTown Board: Show me the money!

A month ago I wrote a letter to the Evening Sun asking the OxfordTown Board to answer three simple questions.  First, were the 2007 zoning laws submitted legally to the county?  Second, is gas drilling consistent with the 2013 Village zoning laws?  Third, when is the Town Board going to hold public working sessions with OxfordVillage leaders to craft a new joint Comprehensive Plan?

At the risk of appearing to be shouting at the deaf, I have a few more questions for those who claim to represent me.  They’re based on my Evening Sun report, “Have You Been Leased or Fleased?”  I noted that most of the gas leases in Oxford are with Norse and Chesapeake, both of which are currently in financial meltdown.  They can’t make money selling gas, so they’ve bundled our neighbors’ leases and sold them to Wall Street speculators.

The Town’s dubiously enacted pro-gas zoning laws were based on promises

to boost our economy, support our school system, and lower property taxes for our struggling farmers and villagers.  Supervisor Wilcox’s board plans to sacrifice our beautiful countryside for dozens of ugly mile-square drilling pads.  Wilcox will force us to exchange our peace and quiet for the sound of hundreds of wells being drilled, the noise of miles of heavy tanker trucks on our roads 24/7 and non-stop compressor stations that roar like Jumbo Jets ready for take-off.

We risk the loss of the value of our properties.  The town will lose tax revenue.  We are being asked to sacrifice our health, welfare and safety and the quality of our air and water for empty promises from bankrupt companies and the delusions of naïveTown Board members.  Meanwhile the gas industry is profiting from trading our leases on Wall Street to foreigners with no benefit to our local lease holders.

Gas industry spokesmen have sold a few trusting landowners including three Town Board members the myth of a huge financial windfall.  At Wednesday‘s meeting, gentlemen, please tell us—in the real world–where are the big bucks going to come from?

How many of my neighbors who have signed leases are having second thoughts?  Your only escape from your lease is to demand our complacent Town Board ban gas drilling from Oxford.

 

 

4/4/13

SUPERVISOR EJECTS

TOWN HISTORIAN

FROM PUBLIC MEETING

That’s right.  Oxford Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox ejected Fred Lanfear, the president of the Oxford Historical Society, from the last Town Board meeting.  Lanfear is a respected citizen and the author of the definitive history of Oxford. 

On March 13 the Town Board topic was gas drilling.  Historian Lanfear was heckled, interrupted and finally silenced for. . .serving as the town historian!  He was trying to apply the lessons from Oxford’s history to Wilcox’s controversial 2007 zoning laws that will industrialize our traditional village and farming community founded by veterans of the American Revolution.

Away with history!  Ban the naysayer!

By this time, the meeting had almost degenerated into a Hollywood Western mob scene.  A gas supporter had already fingered the leader of the “bad guys” and announced his big landowners were “taking the gloves off”.  A retired professor was shut up for asking a science teacher on the board about public health and the disposal of millions of gallons of radioactive waste if fracking were permitted in Oxford.

The next day the Oxford police were investigating a serious act of vandalism against the truck of a vocal participant in the gas drilling debate.

Suppression of speech?  Malicious damage to property?

How could this happen in our peaceful little Town of Oxford?  Mind you, Oxford Village had just led the community in a respectful discussion of fracking that produced consensus in eight months.  Mayor Terry Stark’s process was a model of democratic, responsive and cooperative government.  In February the Village of Oxford calmly prohibited gas drilling in this same meeting room. 

The Village leadership brought the community together; now the Town leadership is dividing it.  How?

The Village mayor received 20 critical questions about gas drilling in July and answered them fully within a month.  Since July Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox has received more than a hundred important gas drilling questions from citizens.

So far his board has refused to address even one of them!

You can read them here: http://www.oxfordvisionaries.org/unanswered-questions/

Encouraged by the positive Village experience, the broader town community has been asking and answering serious questions about gas drilling.  That’s why 1000 Oxford residents petitioned the boards against fracking.  And why only a few gas leaseholders—those who might profit—remain proponents of industrializing rural Oxford.

While Wilcox’s board stubbornly clings to its ignorance, these gas supporters benefit if tough questions about hydraulic fracturing remain unanswered.  That know-nothing alliance produced the ugly intolerance at the meeting.  That’s why a discussion of science was suppressed.  That’s why a historian was thrown out of a public meeting for reporting what happens to Oxford when outside economic forces strip the community of a natural resource.  Then as now, a few locals benefit before the industry skips town and leaves a poorer community trying to recover for decades. 

The majority of Oxonions oppose this fate.  A greedy few welcome it.

Now—against this self-imposed toxic background– at its next meeting the board confronts a new crisis for the history books.  Amidst last meeting’s high drama many missed the most important exchange.  A board member was forced to admit that the current pro-gas zoning laws were enacted illegally.  Supervisor Wilcox announced those laws should be rescinded because of their “many faults”.

How will this play in Dodge City next Wednesday night?  The meeting starts at 7:30 in the old bank building.

The board has two choices.  It can continue to stonewall and incite mistrust and discord.  Or, it can take Wilcox’s advice, rescind the bad laws and encourage full community participation in workshops to create a new Comprehensive Plan as required by law and encouraged by the ChenangoCounty Planning Board.  The 100 questions are an excellent point of departure.  Both advocates and opponents of hydraulic fracturing can defend their points of view in an orderly atmosphere free from intimidation and threats of violence.

Once you read about the “many faults” in the 2007 zoning laws, you’ll agree with Supervisor Wilcox.  Dump them on April 10!

Here are two examples.  The Zoning Board of Appeals was given sole responsibility to approve or reject gas drilling permits from Albany.  But the members of the ZBA point out the laws are devoid of any grounds to make such momentous rulings.  You’ll read about this “fault” in “Blindfolding and Handcuffing Oxford’s Gatekeepers”.

Oh yes, speaking of Hollywood Westerns, the town’s model gas drilling road agreement passed in November heaps so many unchecked powers and invitations to corruption on the highway superintendent—– that fracking will make him “The High Sheriff of Oxford”.

 

Why is Oxford’s Town Board

Missing in Action?

Irving Wesley Hall

            Despite the cold winter, Oxford’s political climate has been heating up, especially since February, when the Village of Oxford prohibited gas drilling.  So far it is the only municipality in Chenango County to ban fracking.  Like it or not, we’re in the national spotlight.  Our courageous Village goverment engaged the community in an spirited discussion that produced a consensus in eight months.  Mayor Terry Stark’s process was a model of democratic, orderly and transparent government.

            Now the Town of Oxford is moving in the same direction. . .but by accident rather than deliberation.  Many residents feel our Town Board is a case study in dysfunctional government, especially when compared to the Village.  Critics cite a stunning fact.  Over the last eight months board members have officially received more than 100 written questions from dozens of the Oxford voters they represent. 

These were overwhelmingly thoughtful concerns, inquiries and urgent requests about the Town’s controversial zoning laws passed in 2007.  They permitted “drilling for gas and oil” under every acre of the town, including our residential and lakefront neighborhoods.  But the legislation offers virtually no protection for the health, safety, welfare or property rights of the 4000 of us who live here.

            The five-man board has stubbornly refused to address even one question—at least until the last meeting.  Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox and Deputy Supervisor Jerry Locke finally answered two of the hundred questions.  Wilcox’s announcement represented an astonishing admission.  Locke’s acknowledgement was prodded by the threat of a civil lawsuit. 

It was the liveliest meeting since July 2012, when gas drilling became a hotly debated issue in our community.  Some forty people attended, roughly divided between pro- and anti-fracking.  Three video cameras captured the excitement.  You can watch it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzG-NQUbFLY.  Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox initially allotted thirty minutes for public comments, but the discussion took on its own life for more than an hour. 

            This showdown was a long time coming.  Months ago citizens warned this board that its blunders six years ago and persistent unresponsiveness could doom its zoning laws.  Could Oxford’s 2007 pro-gas laws be null and void?  That was the burning question immediately after Supervisor Wilcox banged the gavel adjourning the March 13 meeting.

Only minutes earlier, under persistent questioning, Supervisor Wilcox conceded that his 2007 laws “should be rescinded because of the many faults.”  Then Deputy Town Supervisor Jerry Locke took responsibility for the town’s failure to file the law with Chenango County.  The town is required by municipal law to submit any new legislation to the County Planning Board along with an environmental impact statement. 

Mr. Locke avoided both requirements in 2007, when he filed the law directly with the Department of State.  As the Chair of the Town Planning Board he completely skipped the 239m county filing procedure.  Unlike the diligent Village, the Town did not benefit from a thorough review by the County Planning Board, and our citizens lost an opportunity to hear about a law that passed with little public participation and could dramatically change Oxford forever.

So, what’s wrong with this law?  Isn’t something fishy if its defenders stonewall all questions about its legality, history and provisions for eight months—and then are forced to admit it was improperly enacted? 

How serious are the many faults Wilcox conceded? 

Does Locke’s “procedural error” six years ago void the law?  Will the Oxford Town Board follow the lead of its supervisor at the next meeting on Wednesday, April 10 and rescind it? 

Who will the winners and losers be?

What will this mean for Oxford’s residents, especially gas lease holding landowners who read Ellen Anderson’s recent letter to the Evening Sun, “Leased or Fleased?”.  Is voiding the law good for 1000 Oxford residents who signed last year’s petition against gas drilling?  Will rescinding the faulty 2007 legislation help the Town and Village cooperate to resume work on a new joint Comprehensive Plan as required by law and urgently recommended by the county?

Okay. . .you probably don’t even live in Oxford.  So what’s the difference if someone else’s defective law bites the dust?  You’ll be surprised how it affects you.

For more troubling revelations and encouraging insights read the short, snappy and carefully documented blog “Oxford Town Board—Missing in Action”.  The series is fresh daily and starts this week on the Oxford Visionaries website.  Learn about the players and possible scenarios at the Town Board’s next meeting April 10.  Whether you’re rooting for gas or the environment, you won’t want to miss it.

You can also read all 105 questions on a special web page.  Go to www.oxfordvisionaries.org/Unanswered-Questions

Whatever you think about hydraulic fracturing, the implications of your neighbors’ unanswered appeals will blow your mind.

 

 

Comments are closed.