Unanswered Questions to Oxford’s Town Board

Read the latest blog about the Oxford Town Board:  Supervisor Ejects Town Historian from Meeting 

Oxford Town Board’s Unanswered Questions

Questions, Concerns and Urgent Requests

 

2012

July 10: Village and Town Board Questions

(Oxford Visionaries)

1) What are the boards’ powers and responsibilities under the State Constitution to pass and enforce land use and zoning regulations for hydraulic fracturing?

2) What shared community values should guide this legislative process and motivate the active participation of as many citizens as possible?

3) Do any board members, their families, or business associates hold gas drilling leases or stand to benefit from any board action or inaction on this issue?

4) How have previous generations of Oxford leaders met the challenges posed by dramatic innovations such as the Chenango Canal, railroad and automobile?

5) When can the boards prepare a complete map of the properties leased to corporations for gas drilling, the owners, corporations, and the permits submitted?

6) What adjacent properties will be affected by Albany’s compulsory integration of all the lease holder’s neighbors’ land into his contract and gas drilling activities?

7) What natural aquifers, private and village wells, rivers, smaller waterways, and ponds exist in the acreage leased for horizontal drilling or projected for pipelines?

8) What roads, highways and bridges and service stations will be used by the hundreds of heavy trucks that will service each well in this area?

9) What businesses, farms and private homes will be impacted by drilling; increased traffic; noise; air, soil and water pollution; and damage or injuries from accidents?

10) What additional judiciary and legal services will be needed for property and personal conflicts and lawsuits among neighbors, leaseholders and corporations?

11) What new equipment, training and supplies will be required for local fire, emergency medical, traffic control, environmental monitoring and police services?

12) What additional equipment, training and supplies will be required for town and county highway, water, waste management and other departments?

13) What will be the impact on local air, water, and soil quality and how will they be monitored, pollution prevented and violations publicized and remedied?

14) What plans are needed and implemented for evacuations of neighborhoods, schools and public facilities in the event of a fire, explosion or chemical leak?

15) If private security forces are required by drilling companies how will they coordinate powers and jurisdictions with local police?

16) How will emergency crews gain access to abandoned, fenced, or locked facilities or those with disputed or foreign ownership?

17) What additional tax enforcement and collection agents will be required for absentee owners or American corporations transferring leases to foreign entities?

18) How many additional local employees, supplies and equipment will be needed for the expanded range of government services?  Property or sales tax increases?

19) What will be the economic impact from the influx of temporary workers, more crime, increased school enrollment and demand for additional social services?

20) What will be the effects on property values of homeowner flight because of the qualitative changes from our first experiment with major industrialization?

 

August 8: Town Board Public Hearing

(Irving Wesley Hall)

1. How soon can the Town Board issue its reply to the 20 Questions and to the gas industry’s commentary on them?

2. How soon can the Town Board instruct its Planning Board to begin to meet jointly with the Village Planning board to address gas drilling in their preparation of the Comprehensive Vision Plan?

3. How will a prospective Village moratorium affect the town?

 

September 19: Town Board

Industrial Hydraulic Fracturing and

Oxford Town Zoning Regulations: Questions

(14 questioners)

Permit Procedures

1. Will the Town receive a notice that a local gas drilling permit is under consideration by the DEC before it is issued? 

2. How much time will the Town have to prepare for each permit?

3. How will the public be notified?

4. What procedure does the Town follow once it receives the permit?

5. What are the state regulations for a municipality to accept, reject or modify a permit based on the application of its zoning laws?

6. Which Town agency grants or rejects the special exception required for industrial gas drilling once a permit is received from the DEC?

Zoning Protections

7. Have the members of the permitting agency studied the 2007 Town Zoning Regulations against the complex technical, economic and legal issues raised by hydraulic fracturing?

8. Have the members of this agency identified the Zoning Regulations that might apply to special exceptions for industrial gas drilling?

9. Have they identified inadequacies in the zoning laws that must be addressed before permits come from the state?

10. What Town agencies are implementing the Oxford Vision Comprehensive Plan?

11. What Town Agencies are cooperating with their counterparts in the Oxford Village on this plan?

12. Article II, Section 2 of the Town zoning regulations lists the purposes for zoning.  How will zoning laws provide for such stated purposes as “protecting the rural character of our town, prohibiting over-intensity of use and protecting the public health?”

13. If the members of the town permitting agency lack the professional expertise to address these questions who decides what professionals will address them? 

14. Where will the funding for these professional services come from?

15. How will the town residents with expertise participate in this process?

16. How will the Town permitting agency judge if a gas drilling permit should be granted a special exception because its implementation is within the spirit of the zoning laws? 

17. What is the relevance to this process of the zoning law’s provision for Planned Development Districts whose purpose is to insure that new commercial projects conform to the intent and spirit of our zoning?

18. How can the permitting agency make a decision in the absence any objective criteria in the case of industrial hydraulic fracturing and such components as massive compressor stations, networks pipelines, processing plants, massive truck traffic, wastewater and gas storage? 

19. How do the Town zoning laws apply to compulsory integration? 

20. Do they empower the permitting agency to protect people from having their land taken for activities they do not want by rejecting a permit that would violate the basic property rights of neighbors?

21. How will the Town process a permit for a parcel that compulsory integration would incorporate into property in the Village of Oxford or an adjacent town with zoning that precludes all subsurface disturbances?

22. What rights do affected property owners have to prevent harm to their property or interests before drilling is allowed?  What power does the Village of Oxford possess with the town to prevent harm to its residents?

23. Once a permit is identified by the state or submitted to the town does the permitting agency have a legal obligation to inform all property owners and other residents who might be affected by compulsory integration or impacted by the potential harm to roads, air, water, health and soil if the permit is granted?  

24. How much advance notice does the permitting agency give neighbors and other residents who would be impacted if a special exception is granted?

25. How soon must that notification be made and to whom?  What public notices are required?

26. How soon will the Town Board make the leasing maps available to the permitting agency and the public so residents can determine how they might be impacted?

27. Under the zoning laws how do people potentially impacted file grievances?

Contingency Plans

28. How will the permitting agency conduct and finance a study of the health impacts of unconventional gas drilling as mandated by the zoning regulations in the absence of any funds presently allotted by the state?

29. Does the Town have a road use plan to protect its infrastructure?

30. If not who is preparing it and within what timeframe?  How will violations be enforced?

31. Given the dramatic increase in track traffic, how will the Town insure our kids can safely get to and from school in buses on most Town roads morning and afternoon for nine months of the year?

32. What are the requirements for gas companies to restore land after their operations are concluded comparable to the zoning laws that describe how excavation of sand and gravel and the quarrying or rock has to be accompanied by a plan to restore the area once the excavation is over?

33. Where do the Zoning Laws protect residents and municipal revenue-producing tourists who engage in hunting and fishing? Where are provisions to insure that fish and wildlife are not killed or sickened by poisoned, air, water or soil?

 

Six (6) Questions from Vincent and Susan Granata, Oxford Town residents, about road use if fracked gas drilling permits are approved for the Town of Oxford (note several references to November 20 letter comprised of allegations and complaints in Lebanon, NY sent by supervisor James Goldstein; the details of each allegation/complaint are printed below these six questions) :

Submitted to the Oxford Town Board November 1, 2012

1.       Does the budget allow for more ambulances and emergency vehicles? According to the Fire Department we have only two (2) ambulances. They also stated that they have 2 pumpers, 2 tankers, 1 ladder truck, 1 brush truck and 2 rescue boats.  With the influx of industry workers, extra traffic and hazards due to the drilling process, these items seem quite inadequate.  Please refer to the Town of Lebanon Town Supervisor Jim Goldstein’s letter (allegations and complaints # 6-9 — see copy printed below)  regarding unsupervised open brine pits accessible to public and animals, deliberate puncturing of said pits and disposal practices, spills and groundwater pollution and illegal dumping of sediments in violation of the DEC into stream beds.

2.       In the budget are there allocations for the needed training programs of the town and village  personnel to monitor and handle situations in the event of a major gas explosion or toxic chemical spill or contamination clean-up practices for soil and water? Additionally, are they trained in evacuation procedures and protocol?

3.       Does the budget also allow for extra personnel to monitor and assess the roads used by the industry to ensure the effective passage/safety of our school buses, emergency service vehicles, and general traffic patterns with regard to emergency repairs should the industry impede this kind of traffic?

4.       In the budget have you allocated for litigation expenses should Norse Energy fall short in their contracts/agreements?  Have you procured a bond or specific fund to cover any damages that can potentially occur in an emergency situation to cover costs and to pay for litigation fees? Please refer to Town of Lebanon/Goldstein allegations and complaints # 4, 6 and 7.   Norse Energy, according to area maps, has many lease agreements.  The town of Lebanon’s Goldstein states that Norse Energy  was $90 million in debt; see Lebanon/Goldstein allegations and complaints #6 in delays in paying royalties and #13 for failure to coordinate, communicate and cooperate with town officials with regular road maintenance programs. Perhaps an agreement for cooperation with this company should be re-evaluated.

5.       With the budget, is the town getting revenue or consenting to the extraction of the needed water for the fracking process? Please refer to Lebanon/Goldstein letter # 10 about the industry attempting to extract water from sources without consent or notification. It seems revenue should be generated should they use the town water supply.

6.       In the budget is there revenue generated from fees or fines should the industry have delays or inappropriate repairs to town roads?  Is the town prepared to institute fees or fines for illegal road use such as road weight limits or traveling on undesignated roads or illegal dumping? Refer to Lebanon/Goldstein allegations and complaints #4,9 12 and 16, below: 

November 20: Lebanon’s Nightmare with Norse Energy

(Jim Goldstein, Supervisor, Lebanon NY)

1. Unethical leasing practices including threats of eminent domain, intimidation, misrepresentation of state laws and leasing, late evening visits to pressure lease signings, misrepresentation of contractual distinctions between mineral rights and gas rights, and even the forging of leasing and seismic testing documents.

2. Seismic trespass on private property and failure to accurately represent which properties has signed off on permission to allow seismic testing and which did not.

3. Questionable and unethical tactics regarding the use of compulsory integration to avoid having to negotiate fairly with landowners or respect landowners refusal to permit drilling,  and at least one spacing unit in our township that turned out to have been permitted without the requisite 60 percent landowners signed up- essentially an illegal spacing unit.

4. Failure to consistently comply with provisions of our road repair contract agreement which included 14 day notification related to natural gas development activity. The most notable of these was a low volume hydraulic fracturing effort of a well in our township at dusk and nighttime on a Labor Day holiday Weekend two years ago without prior notification when our agreement is very specific as to any activity. The argument was that the DEC permitted the activity but the agreement is separate from that and requires notification of any natural gas development activity and hydrofracking a well would meet that criteria,.

5. Delays in paying out royalties, and questions regarding gas measurement activities.

6. Unsupervised open brine storage containers and brine pits where the public and animals had access.

7. Deliberate puncturing of open brine pits to permit drainage of brine rather than having to arrange for disposal.

8. A gas well rig fire and diesel fuel spill where adjacent property owners still say they can smell the diesel and where no water testing has been done to verify if there is any groundwater pollution, and repeated problems with the sloughing off of hillside and sediment pollution into a vital trout stream and the Lebanon Reservoir on exceptionally rainy days since the incident five years ago.

9. Dumping of sediment in violation of DEC regulations in bodies of water or streambeds.

10. Attempting to extract water from sources without consent or notification.

11. Promises of providing brine to mix with town sand to extend salt use on town roads in winter that were never followed up on even after obtaining DEC approval.

12. Significant delays in contracting with road vendors to repair town road impacts.

13. Failure to coordinate, communicate or cooperate with town officials on a consistent basis with regard to any and all activities that had impacts on the town’s separate ongoing scheduled road maintenance program.

14. Misrepresenting activities related to gas drilling and compulsory integration at public meetings.

15. Near miss accidents reported to the Sheriff’s office of heavy trucks that were driving too fast and in too risky a way on town and county roads.

16. Failure to notify the highway supt of routes to gas wells that resulted in excessive and unnecessary damage to town roads and infrastructure that also cost the company unnecessary extra dollars.

17. Complaints of negatively impacted water sources, foundations and property values in the township allegedly due to seismic testing or drilling activities.

18.   Inconsistent pre testing practices of adjacent water wells and water sources and no post testing of water wells to assess potential impacts.

19. Threats of intimidation to shut down wells and attempts to violate contractual agreements and leases with landowners with gas wells who had signed up expressly so that some gas could be utilized in home and farm activities.

20. Opposition to attempts by local government to be granted the option to consider a local fuel production tax as  a replacement for the current system of local property assessment of natural gas production that prevented such measures from going forward to give local governments this choice.

 

November 1: Village Planning Board Submission

VILLAGE OF OXFORD PLANNING BOARD RECOMMENDATION

At a meeting of the Oxford Planning Board held on September 24,2012, a motion was made by Ann Scorza and seconded by John Todaro to recommend to the Oxford Village Board the enactment of a moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Village of Oxford for a period of one year. Planning Board members Scorza, Stark and Todaro voted in the affirmative, member Emerson voted nay, and member Lamonica abstained. Motion was approved.

This “pause” would allow the village to preserve the status quo while anticipating future issues regarding hydraulic fracturing and enacting measures to guard against them as well as reviewing and/or changing existing zoning and land use laws.

The Zoning Board would recommend that the Village Board consider the following during the moratorium period:

1. Road Use Law. Gas companies are not required to sign road use agreements nor do generic road use agreements offer full protection to the specific needs of communities.

2. Emergency Response Plan. Ensure that there is a response plan for the Oxford Fire Del:1st and other first responders. To date, the Chenango County Fire Dep’t Advisory Board has not received a training in regard to natural gas drilling emergency situations which is approved by the State of New York.

3. Sub-Surface Trespass Law. Current zoning law prohibits drilling in the village but does not protect land under the village from hydraulic fracturing.

4. Water testing. Establish base-line, all inclusive, testing of village water at the reservoir and at all of the village water sources. This is necessary due to concerns regarding permanent damage to the environment arising from the use of chemicals near sources of drinking water. DEC regulations do not permanently protect municipal supplies.

5. Comprehensive Master Plan. Completion of the Master Plan is key in determining Oxford’s future. Key issues in the Visioning Process are related to hydraulic fracturing.

6. Storage and Disposal Laws. Passage of laws dealing with the disposal of natural gas production waste and underground natural gas.storage.

7. Tax Issues.

8. Zoning Ordinance review/update. There has not been an update of the local zoning ordinances since 1973. Among the activities which should be reviewed include natural gas and/or petroleum exploration, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, and natural gas and/or petroleum support activities.

November 1: Town Board Meeting

2013 Budget: Analysis and Questions

(Irving Wesley Hall)

1. Where in the 2013 Budget are the projected costs for legal work, tax assessment, safety inspection, water testing, police enforcement and judicial time after the town establishes “a cooperative atmosphere” with Norse Energy?

What’s the problem?  Totally inadequate Zoning Ordinances written five years ago by well-meaning town officials—like the rest of us— unfamiliar at the time with terms like hydraulic fracturing and compulsory integration.

Fortunately the solution is clear, at hand and partially funded.  The Oxford Town Board has already spent $5,000 as a down payment.  Good Zoning requires a Comprehensive Municipal Plan.  Board member Jerry Locke attended the September 28 Albany conference on “Municipal Law and Planning: A Local Perspective on Hydrofracking.”  The experts unanimously agreed towns need comprehensive plans to confront industrial gas drilling.

Last year the Town and Village of Oxford split almost $10,000 for the SUNY Syracuse Vision Plan process.  A number of us attended those valuable workshops.  The next step is for the two boards and two planning boards to work together to complete that venture with a joint town-village comprehensive plan.

2. In that spirit I ask the Town Board to instruct the Town Planning Board to resume the Comprehensive Plan process at its November 20 meeting and arrange to meet jointly with the Village Planning Board at its December 18 meeting.  A viewing of the Albany conference Panel Five video should top the agenda.

3. I also urge the Town Board to address compulsory integration at its December 12 agenda.  We can present the well-received program in the library a few weeks ago.

4. I also suggest the Town Board and Town Planning Board make their minutes available ten days after meetings and make their meeting agendas available in the clerk’s office and on line a week in advance.

As for the budget, if the board doesn’t have time to prepare to pay the costs of gas drilling in 2013—it should join the village’s moratorium. Then it will have time properly to protect the health, welfare and safety of the citizens as it is empowered and obligated by law.

 

[See also “Six questions about road use (above) from Vincent and Susan Granata re: road use budget concerns)]

 

Question: What is the Town Board’s response to the following 1127/12 letter by Anne Altshuler, member of the Zoning Board of Appeals?

November 27: Oxford Town Board

(Anne Altshuler)

In recognition of likely future applications to the Zoning Board of Appeals to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracturing) gas drilling in the Town of Oxford, I am concerned by the absence of any guidelines or directives within the existing Oxford Zoning Ordinance by which to consider such applications. The only reference to gas drilling is that it maybe applied for under “Special Exception”, with no conditions mentioned. It is not the same as “Excavation”.

It is urgent that the zoning regulations be revised as soon as possible to address this omission before any application is made to this board. A comprehensive plan should also be developed to provide the underpinning for zoning regulations.

Sincerely,

Anne Altshuler

Town of Oxford Zoning Board of Appeals

 

2013

January 16: Town Board Meeting Minutes

Irving Hall, speaking on behalf of  Anti-Gas Drilling, gave the Town Board a report on the Oxford Village Experience and what they have accomplished concerning Gas Drilling in the Village. He recommended that the Town Board take a look at the lessons learned by the Village as follows:

1. hydraulic fracturing requires a new level of legal sophistication;

2. Gas companies will exploit municipality’s zoning weaknesses such as severability, definition of terms, “prohibited where not permitted” and “special exception”;

3. Very costly to fix holes in the laws later;

4. the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning updates need to be updated together;

5. that the Town and Village needs to cooperate with each other; and (6) the vulnerability of Albany permits.

 

February 13: Town Board Meeting

 (Paul Brennan)

            Here are six questions we ask you to address at the next Town Board meeting and in an interview scheduled at your convenience:

1. Last year the Town Board tasked the Town Planning Board with revising the Town’s Zoning Laws.  As Supervisor will you recommend that the Town Board follow or reject the CCPB’s recommendation to update the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan in the rezoning process, and will you task the planning board with that additional assignment?

2.  As the title makes clear, the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan jointly covered both Town and Village.  As Town Supervisor how will you recommend the Town and Village planning boards work together on this project?

3. Last year the Town allocated $5000 to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York in Syracuse to produce the Vision Planning Project Report as a first step in updating the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan. The final report was presented to the Town Board at its last meeting.  How are you going to use this report in upgrading the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Laws?

4. The Village just amended its Zoning Laws to prohibit gas drilling.  The Chenango County Planning Board rejected the amendment under the 239M procedure.  The Town modified its Zoning Laws in 2007 to permit gas drilling.  What was the CCPB’s 239M ruling on the Town’s changes?  Please provide us the 239M procedure exchange between the county and town so we can compare the experiences of the Village and Town.

5. Earlier this month New York State’s Sullivan County returned a draft Comprehensive Plan to the Town of Callicoon because the draft’s pro-fracking language was at odds with the expressed views of the residents.

In the Gotham Gazette article you were quoted:

“The positive things that safe gas exploration could bring to upstate New York are phenomenal,” Wilcox said. But, he said he was still awaiting the results of the state review. “I don’t want to have it unless it can be done safely. That’s the feeling of most of the community. They don’t want to see the land ruined.”

Through both letters and petitions, more than 1000 Oxford Village and Town residents have opposed gas drilling.  As Chair of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors and Town of Oxford Supervisor, how will you insure that public opinion pro- and con-gas drilling is taken into consideration by both county and town government in Oxford’s current work on zoning and planning revision?

6. Given the complexity of the Town Planning Board’s tasks, the amount of time required, and the possibility that the Department of Environmental Conservation could issue drilling permits shortly, we remind you of the five permit process questions we submitted to you on October 19.  We ask you to address these at the next Town Board meeting or during our press interview.  (See Appendix below)

 

February 13: Town Board Meeting

(Susan Granata)

1. Given the position of the Chenango County Planning Board, what was your logic in considering a road use agreement explicitly based on full-scale gas drilling industrialization before revising the Town Zoning Laws and Town and Village Comprehensive Plan?

2. Why was this agreement a) not on the agenda; b) not announced in advance to the public; c) not subject to public comment or hearing; d) not preceded by any economic, safety, health or environmental study and e) passed quickly with no substantive discussion?

3. Why was the agreement referred to the Town Planning Board but passed without the planning board’s notification much less recommendation?

4. Why was the town attorney’s legal opinion not sought on an amendment that raises profound legal questions, could cost the town astronomical sums of money, will requires extensive legal work, absolves the elected Town Board members of their legal obligations and grants wide non-administrative authority, political power and legal responsibilities to one man: the unelected Highway Superintendent?

5. Why were the many serious financial issues raised by many citizens before this board during the November 1 budget hearings totally ignored?  Why was not one penny allocated for the huge legal, monitoring, enforcement, emergency, medical and administrative expenses this board assumed for our town when you passed this agreement?

6. How could any individual board member have exercised due diligence and fully considered the consequences of a vote held under these unusual circumstances?

 

March 12 Evening Sun Letters to the Editor

(Ellen Anderson)

Please email townofoxford@stny.rr.com or call our good Town Clerk Jim Hemstrought at 843-6222 to respectfully ask Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox to provide the Evening Sun with answers to three simple questions.

First, were the 2007 laws submitted legally to the county?  Second, is gas drilling consistent with the 1970 Master Plan and the 2013 Village zoning laws?  Third, when is the Town Board going to hold public working sessions with Oxford Village leaders to reconcile differences over gas drilling?

 

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