Red Hook mulls ban on hydrofracking

Following a similar recommendation earlier this year, the Red Hook Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) has now asked the Red Hook town board to impose a moratorium and ban on hydrofracking.

CAC member Karen McDonald told the board at its July 10 meeting that the moratorium would allow the town to contemplate what changes would be needed in the zoning code to “accommodate protections against activities associated with heavy industrial development, which includes hydraulic fracturing.”

Hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial natural-gas extraction process that uses high-pressure chemicals to mine gas in rock and shale.

Town Supervisor Sue Crane advocated for a ban. “We know we don’t want it in Red Hook,” she said. She then asked the other four town board members if there was anyone who would be opposed to such a ban.

And Councilman James Ross stepped forward. He said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has yet to reach a decision about the effects of hydrofracking. “It is not for me to second-guess what our DEC is doing,” he said.

The method by which the Town Board would attempt to ban hydrofracking is by changing the zoning laws to prohibit heavy industry. The board discussed different methods, but Town Attorney Christine Chale said that zoning law is the only viable solution. “You have authority over zoning. That’s what’s been upheld [in other towns],” she said.

The board directed Chale to prepare a draft of the possible zoning changes for the next meeting in August. One concern was the parameters of the zoning changes, because a ban on surface mining would affect industries other than hydrofracking, such as gravel mining.

McDonald also talked about hydrofrack waste water, claiming that “it is the application of road de-icing agents that is a more applicable issue.” Hydrofracking brine is a common road de-icer. Ulster County is currently considering a ban on the import of hydrofrack waste water, which is sold by energy companies as a low-cost de-icing agent and dust suppressant.

Crane said, “We know that we don’t use them.” but she directed Highway Superintendent Theresa Burke to investigate whether any other agencies are using brine on the county or state roads that run through the town.

McDonald also provided the board with a letter composed by the CAC at the town board’s request asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging a state-wide ban of hydrofracking. The board voted 4-1 to empower the Supervisor to sign the letter and send it to Cuomo, with Councilman Ross dissenting.

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