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Local News

January 24, 2013

Seward will not resubmit home-rule bill

COOPERSTOWN — Legislation intended to arm communities with the ability to zone out gas drilling — sponsored by state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford — has officially died on the Albany vine and won’t be resubmitted, a spokesman for the senator confirmed Wednesday.

Jeff Bishop said courts ruled in two legal battles over the past year that towns do have the authority to ban drilling under current law.

“As far as that legislation goes, it’s been decided on by the courts at this point,” Bishop said, noting Seward has no plans to resubmit the bill in the current session.

Seward’s legislation sparked heated debate locally a year ago, when the Otsego County Board of Representatives passed a resolution backing the bill, over the protests of landowners who favor gas drilling and business leaders involved in a group called Citizens Voice.

Since then, several communities have joined Middlefield — the first local town to zone out hydrofracking — in enacting prohibitions against gas drilling, heavy industry or both.

Adrian Kuzminski, moderator of the anti-drilling group Sustainable Otsego, said he was disappointed that the senator has opted against introducing the legislation in the current legislative


“It’s pretty clear that the majority of local citizens do not want this industry in our area, for good reasons,” he said. “It’s a disappointment that Sen. Seward appears to be dropping the ball on home rule.”

Robert Harlem, the president of Oneonta Block Co. and an organizer of Citizens Voices, said his group had urged Seward to shelve the home rule legislation.

Harlem said the legislation, if enacted, would have inhibited the region’s economic growth potential and have unintended negative consequences for industries other than the natural gas business.

“At this stage, I don’t think it was good legislation,” he said. Of Kuzminski, Harlem said, “He’s a very smart and articulate person, but the only thing I would ask the group he represents is to lay out an agenda that you think is viable and possible for the community and tell us what you would do to sustain the needs of the community we live in.”

Deborah Goldberg, an attorney working to uphold Dryden’s ban on gas drilling — the legality of the Dryden and Middlefield bans are ultimately expected to be determined by New York’s highest court — said she sees no immediate need for a home rule bill, unless the zoning laws are struck down.

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