This is an open letter to the Oxford Town Board.
Governor Cuomo and the DEC have created an enormous amount of unnecessary angst and uncertainty in small Southern Tier towns with the state’s vaguely worded announcements on how they plan on dealing with high-volume, horizontal, hydraulic fracturing in New York. The state says that the revised SGEIS will be delivered at summer’s end, but they haven’t made clear how they will proceed. Will towns receive a grace period to review the SGEIS? Will they follow up their present acknowledgement of home rule with iron-clad, unsupercedable state regulations? The fact is that we don’t know how this will go. The Oxford Town Board must do better than our state officials to show leadership and govern responsibly by putting in a moratorium on hydrofracking. Revokable at any time you are ready to lift it, a moratorium allows you to stay in control of the timeframe. There is no doubt that you will need time to review and absorb the SGEIS, a document that is purportedly 4,000+ pages long, and to take appropriate measures to protect and safeguard the town.
Enacting a moratorium is a demonstration of home rule. We know that the Town Board values home rule. In 2006 you enacted a moratorium to study the impacts of a NYRI proposal to put a high-voltage power line through the town; and in 2007, you amended the Oxford zoning ordinances to supercede DEC permitting, classifying gas drilling as a land use only permitted by special exception by the Oxford Zoning Board of Appeals. Your present course of inaction is an inappropriate response to Cuomo’s request for Southern Tier towns to weigh in on hydrofracking, and it is not in line with your past history of asserting home rule.
At the recent Town Board meeting, some attendees suggested that town leaders could have vested interests in hydrofracking that would impair their impartiality on the issue. One Town Board member took open offense at the questioning of the board members’ integrity. This is not a matter of discrediting board members whom we know have shown prudence and good judgment in the past. This is a matter of the appearance of impropriety.
We run an organic farm in Oxford and have a stand at the Oxford Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. A few weeks ago, we started distributing literature on hydrofracking and collecting signatures for a petition calling for a moratorium. At first customers were concerned but confident that the Oxford Town Board would do the right thing. After the Town Board meeting, people are expressing incredulity at the Town Board’s continued course of inaction and are using words like “corruption,” “collusion,” and “conflicts of interest” to describe their frustration.
Protect the integrity of the Oxford Town Board and the Town of Oxford. Adhere to New York code, Article 18 regarding conflicts of interest of municipal officers and employees, which requires, at a minimum, that each member disclose conflicts of interest. Additionally, put provisions in place for a recusal process in order to facilitate interest-clear, upstanding decisions regarding hydrofracking by all town leaders, from the Town Board to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals. And finally, make available for public review the Oxford Town Charter, a document that to-date, after numerous requests and what we believe to be sincere efforts, still cannot be located by the town office. Oxford town residents are entitled to understand how their government operates.
The Town Board’s present course of inaction on hydrofracking can be viewed as “actively passive” in support of the impending DEC regulations rather than “actively protective” of the Town of Oxford. Enacting a moratorium gives the Town Board the time to review the forthcoming SGEIS, to put a conflict-of-interest policy in place, to see how hydrofracking meshes with the recently developed Oxford Vision Plan, to enact laws on road use (not agreements), and to observe the impacts in other NY towns that proceed with hydrofracking. Only after these important steps, all of which take time that would be afforded by a moratorium, can you decide if and how this industrial activity can take place safely and responsibly in Oxford.
Mina Takahashi and Marco Breuer