Highlights of the December 2, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Comments on Marcellus Shale Drilling Environmental Issues
The Legislature, by unanimous vote of those present, approved comments that will be sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), voicing concerns it thinks should be addressed regarding natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve. (Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera was absent.) The comments come in response to a call for public comment on a preliminary DEC scooping document for a draft environmental impact statement on the horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing technique, which uses pressurized injection of water containing chemicals to extract the natural gas from the underground shale.

While recognizing that natural gas is a relatively clean and low-impact source of energy and that development of Upstate New York gas resources could be of great economic benefit, the action expresses concern about effects including potential reduction and contamination of surface water. It urges that noise limits be established for the drilling and extraction process and related traffic; urges compliance with stormwater pollution prevention regulations; and calls for the statement to address the cumulative long-lasting impact of the extraction process on the region, including its landscape, forests and natural habitat. Regulatory concerns include the identification and regulation of all chemicals used and disposal of produced water; testing requirements for well drillers; regulation of related traffic; and adequate inspection provisions, with gas companies required to provide training and resources for local fire departments to respond to accidents and spills. The measure recommends that local governments be authorized to tax drilling operations, and that the State enact a severance tax on drilling companies to underwrite the cost of DEC regulation and oversight. The resolution also urges that the State Legislature support a federal bill which would repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the federal Safe Water Drinking Act. An amendment to retract that provision failed by a 5-9 vote. Legislator Mike Sigler maintained that bill, sponsored by Representative Maurice Hinchey, was only at a very preliminary stage of federal review and did not directly impact New York State.

Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee Chair Martha Robertson pointed out that it’s important for the Legislature to make its position known at this early stage, since the scoping document forms the basis for later regulations.

Legislator Nathan Shinagawa said the gas drilling issue leaves individual property owners in a difficult situation and that regulations to protect them are important, especially when citizens possess limited resources, compared to drilling companies.
Contact: Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584

Legislators Introduced to Proposed Energy Amendment to Comprehensive Plan
Two weeks before they are scheduled to vote, Legislators were presented a proposal to amend the County’s Comprehensive Plan to address the issue of energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed amendment is based on the principle that the Tompkins County community should reduce energy demand, improve energy efficiency, make the transition to renewable sources of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If adopted, the amendment, in part, would make it County policy to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions in the county by at least 2 percent of the 2008 level for each of the next 40 years, to achieve at least an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Legislator Carol Chock praised the community planning process used to develop the proposal. Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr called it “an absolutely bold goal which makes us all proud.” The proposed amendment can be found at the County’s web site at www.tompkins-co.org/planning/compplan/documents/Final12-16-08EnergyElementforSEQR.pdf .
Contact: Katie Borgella, Principal Planner, County Planning Department, 274-5560; Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584.

Among other actions, the Legislature

  • Set the 2009 real property tax exemption income limits for limited income seniors and persons with disabilities. The income limit for a maximum 50 percent exemption was raised by $1,000 to $28,000, which is the maximum level allowed by the State.
  • Requested authorization to extend the additional one percent local sales tax rate in Tompkins County beyond the 3 percent level authorized for all New York counties. ( Legislator Tyke Randall dissented.) The additional one percent tax has been requested since 1991. The current authorization expires November 30, 2009.
  • Authorized that county law enforcement agencies, with the assistance of the County’s Information Technology Services department and the County Administrator, develop a formal governance structure for interagency collaboration on criminal justice information sharing and central hosting of digital law enforcement records.
  • Went on record urging the State to end the practice of shifting costs for State programs to local and county governments. The resolution is identical to one recently passed by the county Council of Governments.
  • Approved a number of year-end resolutions, including setting Tuesday, January 6 as the date of the Legislature’s 2009 organization meeting.