Public review set for hydrofracking report

A final update? Councilman Anthony Sherman, left, looks over a 10-page letter from Dianne Sefcik, including information she wrote in June, as does Councilman Theodore Lounsbury beside him. The new letter was given to the Westerlo Town Board at its Jan. 7 meeting. Sefcik criticized the town’s process of investigating high-volume hydraulic fracturing, pointing out that a report produced after more than a year did not describe local impacts or refer to the town’s zoning law. 

WESTERLO — The council wants to hear public comment on a report on high-volume hydraulic fracturing that has been submitted twice for its review. By unanimous vote at its Jan. 7 meeting, the town board set a special meeting for public comment on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

The decision came after resident Dianne Sefcik complained about the quality of the report’s information, saying the latest version had not changed significantly from the first, which sourced some of its information from the natural gas and oil industry and gave no recommendation for action to the town board.

Except for a few maps of the Albany Alcove Reservoir and the Basic Creek Reservoir, Sefcik said, no citizen input had been included in the latest version of the report.

“It’s like an orphan project, it seems to me, to this board,” Sefcik said during the Jan. 7 meeting.

Throughout 2013, Sefcik, who opposes fracking in Westerlo, asked the board for updated information on the progress of the committee tasked in 2012 with investigating the gas-extraction process of hydrofracking. Westerlo is part of the the corner of Albany County that sits over the Marcellus Shale formation containing natural gas.

Sefcik first introduced herself to the board, saying she had submitted herself to volunteer on the committee, but found its meetings closed and its research questionable. Since then, Sefcik has submitted letters detailing her own research on the topic to the board, asking that the missives be included in the report.

At the January meeting, Sefcik submitted another letter for the town board comparing the original and revised reports.

According to the letter, the revision included a new section on annual drinking water quality for 2012 in the Westerlo water district, a section quoting the state’s Water Resources Instituet report made “readable with a section on “Private Water Well Testing,” a corrected table of contents, the deletion of an advertisement, the removal of the word “we” and “inflammatory language,” and an updated glossary.

What follows in the letter is a detailed explanation of deficiencies and inaccuracies in the report.

Sefcik suggested similar research committees from other towns review the report. “This is going to be a permanent record for the town, and, to me, words are important,” Sefcik told the board.

“The answer is not to beat this report to death,” said Bichteman, saying he doesn’t represent any other town. He continued, stressing that the zoning law would be reviewed and provide more protection for the town.

“The town of Westerlo is not ready for hydrofracking now, nor is hydrofracking ready for the town of Westerlo,” said Bichteman, describing his opinion on the process as not safe. “But I have a problem with a ban on hydrofracking,” he said, saying it could benefit the town in the future as its technology develops.

Councilman Anthony Sherman said he has an obligation to respect a majority of town citizens and said he wouldn’t rely on the report alone for his decision. 

Bichteman made a motion to accept the report, but Sherman moved, instead, to hold a special meeting for public comment. That motion passed.

Other business:

In other business, the town board:

— Postponed a request from Curtis Cunningham to be appointed as a marriage officer, so he could officiate his daughter’s wedding in the town;

— Heard Bichteman give his water committee report. He said that changing and reducing thermostats has cut electricity usage in town buildings by half. He also said the system operator, Douglas Story, would be preparing an annual report;

— Heard from Dorothy Verch, immediate past chair of the Westerlo Planning Board, that revisions to the town’s comprehensive plan suggested by the Albany County Planning Board are being addressed by the town’s planning board. She hoped the plan will be ready for the February meeting; and

— Voted, 5 to 0, to purchase the Quickbooks accounting software from the town’s financial consultant, Pattison, Koskey, Howe, & Bucci, for an initial cost of $3,000 and an expected maintenance cost of $1,000 each year after.

The accounting firm uses the same software, Bichteman said, so it would integrate with the town’s system. He said the town’s current accounting software doesn’t work well, and has problems adapting to changes, for example, for water district bills.

“The truth is, we’re probably not going to get all the way to the 21st Century,” said Bichteman of the town’s need for the new software.

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