By WES GILLINGHAM
There are two phrases that I hear a lot these days. The first is “it’s coming, so get used to it.” The second is “and there is nothing you can do about it.” To the first point I ask, what exactly is it that is coming that you need to get used to? To the second point: there is actually something you can do about it.
Catskill Mountainkeeper recently co-sponsored with the Sullivan County Planning Department a forum on natural gas drilling that included experts and community organizers from Wyoming and Colorado who shared the experience their communities had in dealing with natural gas development in their region. Jill Morrison, from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, said, “Our community is a poster child for how not to do it.” The message was loud and clear. If the gas companies are coming, your communities need to join together and get out in front of the issue from the beginning. The entire impact of the gas development needs to be considered including its impacts on water, county roads, crime emergency services and taxes.
We have shown in the past in Sullivan County that we can come from different walks of life, roll up our sleeves and address the task at hand. Environmental groups, farming organizations, towns and county officials came together to fight a bad proposal to dissect our communities with the NYRI power line. The Upper Delaware Visioning Committee and Roundtable have brought community leaders, elected officials, as well as town, county, state and federal representatives to deal with regional issues and mapping development for regional planning.
Gas drilling is an issue that has many facets. There are environmental concerns, socio-economic implications and legal issues. As a result there are many things that people will disagree upon. However, there are some things that many people will agree on, for example, the need to implement a bonding system of county roads so that regular taxpayers aren’t left footing the bill to fix the roads damaged from the thousands of trucks that come with the development.
The challenge is to continue to work together on issues that have common ground, even while major disagreements on other issues exist. The most important lesson learned from the folks out west was to stick together as a community.
We need to create a forum where issues that we agree upon can be dealt with and open dialogue and discussion can take place regarding mitigating impacts and helping to protect land owners who have leased their rights.
We need to slow this process down so that our community can identify where our regulatory process is lacking, and find the ability as a region to make the industry do this right.
Gas drilling is coming, and you can get used to it by getting involved in the process to ensure that the long-term health of Sullivan County is the number one priority.