Fracking referendum nixed in Westerlo

WESTERLO — The town board will make any final decisions about laws addressing hydraulic fracturing. The board agreed at its June 4 meeting to release next month its report on the process of extracting natural gas.

Councilmembers originally supported having a referendum on the issue in November, arguing that such a controversial and important issue as hydraulic fracturing should be decided by residents.

“We informed them that there’s no legal basis for them to put that on the ballot,” said Aline Galgay, the town’s attorney, on Wednesday.

Leonard Laub, a former planning board chairman, noted from the gallery during the Tuesday meeting that state law allows for referenda only in certain circumstances.

“We ran into the same problem when we did that down there by the firehouse and we had it going one way,” Supervisor Richard Rapp said after Laub, referring to a change made to Jennings Road in South Westerlo from two- to one-way in the 1982. “We wanted to put that on the ballot and they said, ‘No, you can’t,’”

Rapp and board member Alfred Field, the chairman of the hydraulic fracturing committee that produced the report, deferred Laub’s comment to Galgay, as well as his questions about extending a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and gas drilling in the town that expires in August.

“What they’ll probably do is schedule a public hearing so it’s on the record. Otherwise, we’ll miss the date,” Galgay said this week, adding that an extension to the moratorium would require a time frame and a reason not to permit hydraulic fracturing. She gave examples of the board’s requiring more time to amend zoning law, to modify the report, or to come to a final decision.

Laub cited state law in 2010 when the board offered to purchase the Westerlo School, the current town hall, from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District. He argued the offer was “dead in the water” because proper notice to the public hadn’t been given. The voters supported the purchase

A petition was filed to have residents vote on the purchase, and the board later voted to hold a special election.

Board members have said that the report compiled by the town’s committee on hydraulic fracturing would not be available to the public until the town board approves it. Board member William Bichteman was absent at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We want Bill’s input, we don’t want to leave him out,” said board member Theodore Lounsbury.

Bichteman said Tuesday he had not finished reviewing the report but had read through it and made notes. He offered no conclusions about the process.

“It just seemed to be the accepted tone of all the discussion that that was probably what was going to happen,” Bichteman said of a referendum on hydraulic fracturing. “I never investigated the legality of it.”

Other members agreed with Councilman Anthony Sherman that, “come high water,” the report be released after their meeting on July 2.

“I don’t know the answer as to whether or not I will be there on the second,” said Galgay. “If they ask me to be there I will be there.”

Residents have asked during recent meetings why Galgay has not attended board meetings.

“One of the reasons I don’t go to the meetings anymore is because the town board felt that the public felt that I was there to answer all of their questions and it diverted the town board from being able to get any business done,” said Galgay. “They’re attempting to streamline their meetings and get things done.”

Westerlo resident Dianne Sefcik said she filed a Freedom Of Information Law request for the report that was denied in May on the grounds that the town board was reviewing the report, with an estimate of mid-June before it would be available.

“People need more time to understand the seriousness of this,” resident Anita Marrone said from the gallery at the June 4 meeting, suggesting that public and private water be tested throughout the town.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from Planning Board Chairwoman Dorothy Verch that planning and zoning boards’ secretary Rita Perciballi’s recording device is “on its last legs,” and asked the board to authorize the purchase of a new one;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to change zoning board of appeals meetings to the fourth Monday of each month;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to authorize Rapp to be the official representative for a grant application through the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for new containers at the transfer station;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to approve the standard workday resolution, which reports the number of days worked by appointed and elected town officials to the New York State and Local Retirement System, for Galgay, Verch, Keith Wright, Edwin Stevens, Dawn Belarge, and Tracy Lawson;

— Passed, 4 to 0, a resolution designating Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnato to receive notices of claims filed with the department of state;

— Heard from Building Inspector Edwin Lawson that a property along Route 143 was in danger from erosion after Tropical Storm Irene. He suggested sending a letter from Galgay to the property owner asking what his intent is to mitigate the erosion. As the creek continues to erode the bank close to the house, Lawson said, it would eventually need to be condemned.

“We tried to steer him in the right direction,” said Lawson.

Lawson said officials from the county and the Federal Emergency Management Agency inspected the site damaged after Irene in 2011, but they rejected reimbursement for restoring the bank because the property owner did not live there;

— Heard President Zenie Gladieux and Vice President Dawn Jordan of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association announce upcoming events and efforts to promote local businesses and agriculture.

The organization’s Hilltown Community Market at the Berne Masonic Lodge held on Saturdays opened this month. It organizes tours and events in the Hilltowns throughout the year.

The HHA is a member of the Albany County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and posts to, a community calendar;

— Voted, 4 to 0, to authorize Rapp to review service contracts and purchase a new copier after Laub searches for better prices.

“Time to buy a new one and trade this albatross in,” Rapp said of the current copier for which the service contract would not be renewed.

The current copier costs $874 each month. Spinnato read estimates for two Toshiba models copiers at $4,288 and $5,661, and another for a Ricoh copier at $4,985. She read two estimates for one other Ricoh copier: $5,648 and $5,793;

— Was asked by Patrick Kosorek whether Galgay would come to a meeting to explain why the “Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance” he submitted would not come to a vote by the Westerlo board. It prohibits any federal, state, or local laws that infringe on the Second Amendment. It declares that the town does not recognize such laws and has the duty to enact laws to prevent their enforcement.

“Those are not issues the town board can address,” Galgay told The Enterprise. “We don’t set constitutional amendments. We have no impact over the state legislature.”

Resident Anita Marrone suggested the board ask Galgay to respond to Kosorek in a letter; and

— Voted, 4 to 0, to approve sessions attended by planning board members to qualify them for state training requirements.

More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.