The Herkimer Town Council invited residents to attend a public meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the town’s position on natural gas and petroleum exploration and extraction activities.
In 2012, the town implemented a local law that set a moratorium and prohibition on these activities along with the underground storage of natural gas and disposal of natural gas or petroleum extraction, exploration and production wastes.
The moratorium will expire in May and the town council is seeking input from residents on hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, as they consider the town’s future position on the controversial drilling practice that involves drilling horizontally and injecting pressurized water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas.
“The town council will have to make a decision to either extend the moratorium another year or to ban these activities outright, because to do nothing and let the moratorium expire, in my opinion, would be a mistake,” said Supervisor Dominic Frank.
With the state Assembly having passed legislation to extend a moratorium on hydrofracking until 2015, and similar legislation having been introduced in the state Senate earlier this month, town of Herkimer Planning Board member Robert Shaver said he would support extending the town’s moratorium another year.
“There is just so much uncertainty out there that it makes sense to extend the moratorium and wait for more information to become available,” he said.
The state legislation calls for a more in-depth review of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s examination of hydrofracking and also allows time for the completion of three ongoing independent public health studies.
“The results of those studies could weigh on the town’s decision to allow or prohibit these activities, so it would benefit to the town to take another year and continue its research,” said Shaver. “What’s in those studies could make a difference.”
While the majority of the planning and zoning board of appeals members in attendance at Tuesday evening’s meeting were in favor of extending the moratorium to May 2014, they warned the town could not continue to extend its moratorium year after year.
“To withstand a legal challenge the town has to work toward resolving the issue,” said Shaver. “The idea of a moratorium is give the town time to work toward a ban or toward allowing the practice, so eventually the town has to make a final decision.”
Town Attorney Jessica Manieri said should the town’s moratorium face a legal challenge, it does allow for exceptions to be brought before the zoning board of appeals.
“There are avenues to have a permit considered,” she said.
Frank said the council would listen to residents’ views before deciding how to proceed with the moratorium and added the council would likely make a decision in April.
Page 2 of 2 - “To put off a decision until May would cut it close to when the moratorium would expire, so personally I would like to see the council make a decision one way or the other next month,” he said. “Extending the moratorium, I believe, would provide the town with a level of protection for another year because there is just so much out that needs to be considered before the council can vote to allow it or ban it.”
The Herkimer Town Council meets the first and third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at the town hall at 114 N. Prospect St., Herkimer.