BY TOM GRACE
COOPERSTOWN NEWS BUREAU
Gas drilling and hydrofracking will be a central issue in the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ District 8 race in the town of Otsego.
Earlier this month, Otsego became one of the first towns in the state to amend its zoning regulations as a barrier to drilling and hydrofracking.
Monday, two candidates with sharply different opinions on the action announced their candidacies for the board.
Incumbent Republican James Johnson, 44, the county board’s vice chair, said the move was risky and could lead to expensive litigation.
Challenger John Kosmer, a Democrat from Fly Creek and a founding member of Sustainable Otsego, said it was essential to protect water and public health.
Johnson, 44, who is seeking a third term, said Otsego County has taken the right approach as the area gets ready for horizontal drilling and hydrofracking — the injection of wells with millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals to stimulate production. The state DEC has primary responsibility for regulating the industry, Johnson said.
``Our hands have been tied by the process. Our role is a very limitedone,’’ he said. ``Our passing legislation for the sake of passing legislationreally does nothing more than set us up for litigation.
``We’re doing the things we feel we have to do to protect the area of jurisdiction that we have — the roads and public safety — but beyond that, my personal belief is that if there is any possibility that this activity could be dangerous from a health perspective or economic perspective, we need to make sure we don’t take any step in that direction until those issues are no longer issues,’’ Johnson said.
Kosmer, 62, who is making his first run for public office, said: ``The science is in, and it’s clear: this is dangerous to your health.
We’re saying to elected officials that you must make sure you are protecting your residents and if you don’t, we will replace you.’’
Kosmer cited a New York Times article from Friday about the safety of hydrofracking as evidence that concerns are widespread and officials must act accordingly.
The story begins: “The U.S. EPA official who oversaw the George W. Bush administration’s 2004 study of hydraulic fracturing says its conclusions about safety have been exaggerated for years.”
Kosmer also said drilling and hydrofracking will reduce property values and that banks are reluctant to extend mortgages on leased properties. Johnson noted that the town of Otsego is a pioneer in the area of using local law to control the oil and gas industry.
``There’s a reason other towns haven’t done it: the potential for serious litigation. And if one of these gas companies decides to sue the town of Otsego, this is the type of lawsuit that’s not thousands of dollars, it’s millions of dollars.’’
Kosmer said that municipalities in New York state have the authority to enact zoning laws as Otsego has done and that inaction could be costly to health and wealth.
In a statement emailed to The Daily Star on Monday announcing his candidacy, Johnson wrote that he is proud of being an advocate for taxpayers and for securing occupancy tax money for Cooperstown.
``I have fought many difficult battles to make sure that the people paying the bills are not taken advantage of.’’
Johnson said the county’s sales tax collection has dipped ``10 percent since 2005, and it is crucial that we tighten our belts and understand that government is not the priority.’’
Kosmer said he realizes the county has many responsibilities, ``but if we don’t get moving on gas drilling and protect all we can, it’s going to affect everything else.’’