New York town bans discussing fracking at community meetings

Environmental groups claim the town violated residents' free speech rights by banning talk of natural gas drilling

Topics: fracking, Environment, natural gas, natural gas drilling, ,

New York town bans discussing fracking at community meetings (Credit: Reuters/Les Stone)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against an upstate New York town, claiming it violated residents’ right to free speech by banning discussion of natural gas drilling at town board meetings.

The town board in Sanford, about 100 miles southwest of Albany in Broome County, passed a resolution in September saying there already had been hours of public comment for and against gas drilling and that no further discussion would be allowed during board meetings, although residents could still submit comments in writing.

“If people are silenced by their own elected representatives, how can they trust them to act in their best interests?” said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Kate Sinding as her group announced the U.S. District Court lawsuit. NRDC and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed the lawsuit on behalf of town residents who are members of their groups.

Herbert Kline, a Binghamton attorney who represents Sanford, said Tuesday that the resolution was supported by an opinion from the state Committee on Open Government. He said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet.

“People who were against fracking had, in the minds of the town board, monopolized discussion in the public participation portion of prior meetings to the extent that very little other business could be accomplished,” Kline said in explaining what led to the resolution.

Natural gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a major political issue in the state, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo expected to decide soon whether to lift a 4 1/2-year-old moratorium on it. Residents for and against development have packed town board meetings for months, with opponents succeeding in persuading boards in dozens of towns to enact bans or moratoriums.

Supporters of drilling, including landowners who hope to sign lucrative leases with gas companies, have persuaded many other towns to pass resolutions supporting the state Department of Environmental Conservation in whatever decision it makes on regulating drilling.

The Sanford town board has passed several resolutions in favor of gas drilling. Town Supervisor Dewey Decker also sent a letter to Cuomo in September urging him to move forward as soon as possible with shale gas development.

The town is in the southern part of the state near the Pennsylvania border, where the gas-rich rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale is most likely to see the first drilling activity if the ban is lifted.



“They shut down public speaking,” said Susan Bishop, a Sanford resident who said there had been a lot of confrontation at meetings over the issue. “I feel it is an absolute violation of our rights. It can’t be allowed to stand.”

Mike Musante, a fracking opponent, said people on both sides of the issue walked out of the meeting when the resolution was passed, “because there was no point in being there.”

Before gas drilling became an issue, only a handful of people would attend board meetings, Musante said. But recently there have been about 40 people on each side of the issue speaking out.

“It’s extremely divisive,” he said. “There are some well-placed families, including our town supervisor, who have signed leases with signing bonuses in the millions of dollars. And there are smaller landowners who are opposed.”

The lawsuit is seeking to have the speaking ban lifted and to recover legal fees related to the court action.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Bulldog

    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Beagle

    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Poodle

    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Boxer

    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Rottweiler

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>