New Berlin supervisor blasts county board for inaction on compulsory integration order

NORWICH – An uncharacteristically lengthy discussion of natural gas issues capped February’s meeting of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors this week.

A discussion of compulsory integration restrictions, hydrofraking pollution, municipal roadway ordinances and forming a consensus on the county’s position on drilling ensued for 25 minutes and drew comments from eight of the county’s 23 supervisors.

The exchange followed board business that included the adoption of 25 resolutions, a Commerce Chenango budget presentation and committee appointments. It was one of the longest monthly meetings held in the recent past.

The subject of natural gas exploration and drilling, whether it be into lucrative shale formations, such as the Marcellus and Utica, or immediately promising Herkimer or Vernon sandstone strata, has consumed not just Chenango County and the Southern Tier, but all of New York State. It is currently pitting upstate farmers desperate for income versus city dwellers who fear the byproduct of drilling could pollute their upstate drinking water supplies.

Supervisor Ross Iannello kicked off the discussion about local exploration and drilling by asking for immediate board support in leasing county-owned land at Preston Manor. The land is being integrated into a Norse Energy, Inc. spacing unit at an adjacent well site. Iannello and other supervisors who make up the county’s Natural Gas Committee have been pushing the board to take advantage of an opportunity to profit.

Only a short window of time remains to enter into a contract. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will hold a compulsory integration hearing on the order in early March. (A previous mid January hearing was postponed.)

It was a call the Town of New Berlin supervisor made upon first learning of the opportunity last fall, in hopes of garnering a more lucrative royalty payoff for Chenango County taxpayers. Iannello repeatedly asked for the board’s support this week, both on Monday and in a Planning and Economic Development Committee held on Tuesday. (See sidebar.)

“We are going to lose revenue. ... The bottom line is if we don’t move on this, we are only going to get 12 .5 percent, not the 25 percent that would be possible for taxpayers,” he said.

Iannello requested such a resolution in the Planning and Economic Development Committee in December, but his motion died, he said, because the committee changed directors.

“It still bothers me,” he told the board. “I want to find some way of getting this land leased.”

“We had months and months to do this already,” he said in an interview following Monday’s board meeting.

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