Red Hook outlines hydrofracking ban

Changes to Red Hook town’s zoning code to ban hydrofracking and related enterprises were presented to the town board at its Sept. 26 meeting.

The Zoning Review Committee, working with town attorney Christine Chale, has drafted several changes to town code that they believe will eliminate any possibility of hydrofracking operations within the town. These changes were proposed by the Conservation Advisory Council, which requested an outright moratorium in July.

Other towns have passed similar code changes in an effort to bar the potential effects of hydrofracking before it even begins. CAC chair Laurie Husted explained, “We want our zoning to be absolutely clear that heavily industrial practices are not in keeping with Red Hook’s rural character.”

Three basic changes to the zoning code include:

  • Revisions to expand the definition of banned “heavy industries” to include natural gas and oil exploration as well as support activities. Disposal of natural gas and petroleum production wastes would also be prohibited.
  • An amendment to prohibit disposal of hydrofracking by-products anywhere in the town by changing the definition of “refuse” in the code.
  • Addition of a new “Brine Prohibition Act,” based on a similar law passed recently in Ulster County, which would ban the use of hydrofracking by-products as road de-icers. These by-products contain unknown chemicals from the hydrofracking process, which could contaminate the groundwater once absorbed.

The CAC has approved all three changes, and suggested adding a penalty for the use of hydrofracking by-products as road de-icers. similar to that found in the Ulster County law.

Several towns have passed general bans on hydrofracking only to have them struck down in court under the reasoning that only the state can regulate the practice. However, zoning laws that prohibit specific practices have been upheld as legal, so this is the strategy Red Hook is using.

Husted expressed concern that the changes will not prohibit trucks carrying hydrofracking materials from traveling through the town. Some sources estimate that each natural gas well may generate as many as 1,200 truck trips carrying materials to and from the site. But the town is limited in what it can do to control traffic on state roads within its boundaries.

The board will review the proposed zoning code changes and the CAC’s recommendation and will set a date for a public hearing on the changes at its next meeting, October 9.

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