Highlights of the May 19, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Provides Additional Comment on Natural Gas Drilling Environmental Issues
The Legislature voiced official concern about environmental issues related to natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve.  By unanimous vote of those present (Legislator Tyke Randall was excused), the Legislature provided comment on matters not addressed in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) scooping document for a draft environmental impact statement on the horizontal drilling and high volume hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technique.  The drilling method uses pressurized injection of water containing chemicals to extract the natural gas from the underground shale.  
The resolution notes that the document fails to address inspection and enforcement staffing concerns, as well as public disclosure of the composition of “fracking” fluids, and maintains that adequate staffing and enforcement are essential and could be inhibited by the current State budget crisis.  The measure urges New York State to calculate the number of inspectors and staff needed to adequately oversee all related operations; to delay permitting for gas drilling until an adequately funded inspection and enforcement program is in place; to extend the comment period to at least 60 days; and to enact a state severance tax and adequate permit fees to underwrite the cost of regulation and oversight.  The Legislature also urges that the State require all chemical substances to be identified and made public, with special notification to emergency response personnel and health care providers before use of the chemicals is permitted.  
Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Chair Pam Mackesey warned that, considering the number and proportion of properties under lease, the gas drilling “will have a tremendous impact on our life here in Central New York,” requiring careful and thorough regulation.  Legislator Frank Proto noted that, with the volume and complexity of information related to this issue, it is essential that the state’s comment period be extended beyond the standard 30 day period.
This is the second time that the Legislature has weighed in on the gas drilling issue.  Last December, the Legislature submitted comments to the DEC, urging the agency to incorporate a number of provisions in the scoping document to address regulatory and environmental concerns, 
Contact:  Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203
Legislature Awards Tourism Grants
The Legislature  awarded Tourism Capital Grants, funded through room occupancy tax dollars, to the Cayuga Nature Center and Ithaca Children’s Garden.  Tourism Capital Grants support major visitor-generating projects.  A $100,000 award to the Cayuga Nature Center, to be spread over four years with conditions and subject to annual approval, will fund capital improvements including new entrance and other attractions to make the facility more accessible, functional and attractive to visitors.  The grant award was approved by a vote of 11-3 (Legislators Frank Proto, Jim Dennis and Greg Stevenson voted no; Legislator Tyke Randall was excused.) 
Proto said the improvement program may be worthwhile, but that sufficient information is lacking, especially for an award of this magnitude, including a demonstrated link to tourism impact.
The Ithaca Children’s Garden, by unanimous vote, was awarded a $14,800 Tourism Capital Grant to help support capital improvements to make the garden more visitor-friendly.
The Legislature, without dissent, also awarded six organizations Tourism Marketing and Advertising Grants, totaling $25,500.  Receiving grants are the Cayuga Wine Trail, Museum of the Earth, Ithaca Triathlon Club, Tompkins County Quilters Guild, Finger Lakes Wine Center, and Light in Winter.
Contact:  Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.
Among other actions, the Legislature

  • Heard a summary of the 2008 annual report for the Department of Probation and Community Justice from Probation Director Patricia Buechel.  
  • Authorized continuation of the County’s Home Ownership program for first-time homebuyers, which serves low- and moderate-income families, through use of Small Cities Community Development Block Grant income funds.
  • Dedicated four conference rooms at the new Brown Road headquarters of the Tompkins County Health Department as a lasting tribute to the late James Rice (charter and 50-year member of the Board of Health); the late Joanne Brazo (long-time employee); the late Clara Goodman (former Supervising Public Health Nurse) and John Andersson (retired Director of Environmental Health.)  Each of the honorees served the Health Department 30 years or longer.
  • Approved revisions to five County policies and abolished three others, as part of the County’s Administrative Manual Maintenance program.  In 2007, the Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee (formerly Government Operations) charged County Administration with developing a plan for routine review and/or updates to the Administrative Manual to improve manual currency by 50 percent by the end of 2009.

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