Thursday, December 6, 2012

September 2011 We Passed Our Ban!

Small town democracy in practice: Danby NY Bans Gas Drilling
(originally published in Tompkins Weekly)
by Eric Banford

Adding to the growing list of small and large municipalities that have moved to ban hydraulic fracturing for gas, on September 12th the Town of Danby NY passed changes to their zoning laws that prohibits gas and petroleum mining and related activities. The public hearing was attended by a small but enthusiastic crowd, with no one speaking out against the changes, and a standing ovation when the Town Board unanimously passed it.

In practice, a town’s zoning laws prohibit any industrial practice that is not explicitly allowed. Danby's zoning laws and Comprehensive Plan do not have provisions for high impact industry, so the changes being made are to clarify the towns desire to preserve its rural character by explicitly excluding such industries. Home rule is part of NYS constitution, and it vests towns with the police power to enact laws to protect their citizens and environment. Whether or not these bans will hold up is still in question.

The question was asked about whether or not law suits might come from New York State, from residents, or from gas companies. Danby's Town Attorney Guy Krogh thought gas companies or residents would sue, and noted that “They will likely attack the weakest laws first, the ones not well documented. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has said they will honor towns that have laws incompatible with drilling, and that they will deny permits in such town.”

In the DEC's revised draft regulations, the agency acknowledged home rule, requiring applicants for Marcellus drilling permits to “compare the proposed well pad location to local land use laws, regulations, plans and policies to determine whether the proposed activity is consistent with such local land use laws, regulations, plans and policies. If the applicant or the potentially impacted local government informs the Department that it believes a conflict exists, the Department would request additional information with regard to this issue so it can consider whether significant adverse impacts relating to land use and zoning would result from permit issuance.”

Anne Klingensmith is a member of Concerned Citizens of Danby, and local group of citizens who went door to door gathering signatures on a petition asking the Danby Town Board to ban high impact industry in town, including all forms of gas drilling. She shared that “Everybody who I asked was happy to sign the petition. When I brought up the question of whether or not they were worried about the town getting sued, people basically said that if it happens they will deal with it, it's really important to not have fracking. Like Love Canal, we can't keep using chemicals like this.”

The petition received almost 500 signatures, and stated the following: “Danby's Comprehensive Plan states that Danby is a community which, '...values and seeks to conserve its rural character.' We believe that high-impact industry, with its potential to pollute our water, land, and air; to create traffic, light, and noise incompatible with our rural character; to threaten our municipal infrastructure; and to affect the happiness, health, and welfare of our citizens, is not compatible with our Comprehensive Plan. We, the undersigned residents of Danby, NY, request our Town Board to amend existing Town ordinances to ensure that high-impact industry, including gas drilling, is prohibited within the Town of Danby.”

Betsy Wohl also went door to door collecting signatures, and she found the experience difficult but rewarding. “Some people were very brief, most saying yes, but some saying no. Some people wanted to chat, so it was nice to see your neighbors. Tonight's meeting made it very rewarding, it is really the culmination of a lot of people's hard work.”

Gay Garrison is also a member of Concerned Citizens of Danby, and she was able to collect over 200 signatures, sometimes visiting a road four times in order to get a balanced sampling of Danby residents.   She shared “I went to as many households as I could, without regard to wether they were leased or not. Of the 222 signatures, only 12 people declined to sign. It was wonderful meeting so many people that I live near, it was great that so many people knew what fracking was, knew what the dangers are, and were concerned enough to just say we should ban it.” When ask about her reaction to the Town Board's vote, she thought it was anticlimactic but fabulous. “Some of the other towns have had hundreds of people at these meetings, and little Danby was kind of under the radar, but certainly sincere and all about it.”

Danby resident Ted Crane commented that zoning was the only way for a town to protect itself. He  suggested that the town “Pass the other practical things, like road ordinances and aquifer protection, but do this to protect the people. Other things are basically protecting infrastructure, citizens need protection as well.”

Another Danby resident Jonathan Zisk added, “When they read the list of comments from people who emailed, that was a long list of friends and neighbors. This is democracy at work here, small town people having their say.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We have a petition that we are asking citizens of Danby to sign, which encourages our Town Board to clarify in our zoning ordinances that "high impact industry" is inappropriate for our town, and should thus be explicitly excluded. Since it is not explicitly included, it is actually legally excluded, but we want to clarify that point. If you are interested in signing the petition, or in going door-to-door within Danby and getting signatures, please contact one of us.

Eric Banford (
Gay Garrison (
Anne Klingensmith (
Steve Selin (