Red Hook passes laws to ban hydrofracking

Despite the Supervisor’s absence, the Red Hook town board unanimously passed three local laws in an effort to ban hydrofracking within its borders.

Before the laws, the first three of 2013, could be passed, the board held a public hearing at their meeting on May 14 that drew fewer than 10 people.

Red Hook resident David Russo expressed concern that the first local law, titled “A Local Law to Prohibit Brine on Town Roads,” might limit the highway department from using salt brine on roads in the future. “I appreciate the spirit of the proposed law… To use the word brine without defining it as hydraulic fracturing brine is our mistake,” he told the board.

Board members bristled at the idea that the law did not thoroughly define brine. “This law has a track record. We did a lot of research,” Councilman Harry Colgan assured Russo. Town attorney Christine Chale, who helped the board draft the laws, noted that the law states: “the application of natural gas and oil production wastes on any town road… is prohibited.”

Village resident Lori Urbin commended the board for acting. “I am very appreciative to the town board for being proactive about the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing… Rather than to wait until something started happening and then get action together to prohibit it, to move ahead and put something in place now is just a great idea,” she said.

Others also spoke in favor of the law before the public hearing closed. Before voting, board members expressed their views on the laws as well. “We’ve spent a great deal of time researching this so that we protect our aquifer. The aquifer is obviously critical to the health of our town… We’ve done the very best job we can,” Colgan said.

Councilwoman Brenda Cagle noted that three town committees, the Conservation Advisory Council, Planning Board, and Zoning Review Committee had reviewed the laws and approved them.

When it came time to vote, the first two laws—the second of which bans disposal of natural gas or oil drilling waste products within the town—passed quickly, with little discussion. Before a vote on the third law, which amends the existing zoning law to define in greater detail the prohibition on heavy industry in the town, Deputy Supervisor Jim Ross made a statement. “[Supporting this law] was a difficult decision for me. I never even thought twice about the brine and as far as the waste, I had no question about that. But when it comes to hydraulic fracturing, I’m not opposed to it,” he said. “However, I do believe, based on the lay of the land, our population, our aquifer… the town of Red Hook itself is not a site where we would want hydraulic fracturing just because of the availability of open land far enough from any aquifers.”

With that, all three laws passed unanimously.

With this move, Red Hook joins hundreds of other New York towns that are working to ban the practice, according to which tracks bans and moratoria on fracking.

Author Sarah Imboden serves as a member of the Red Hook Conservation Advisory Committee.

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