The Butternuts Town Board received a petition Wednesday evening signed by nearly 800 residents and local property owners, asking for a ban on natural gas drilling in the town, Supervisor Charles Eckelmann said.

Eckelmann said he was unsure how the board will respond.

"I believe we should take a cautious approach -- better safe than sorry -- and listen to what people are saying, but the board is pretty evenly divided," he said.

The petition was accepted by the board without comment, and no formal plan has been set for acting on it, he said.

"I read it, and I think the signatures speak volumes for what people in town think," he said. "They're worried, and they're looking for us to act."

The group that collected the signatures was the Friends of Butternuts. According to member Teresa Winchester, 662 registered voters were contacted, and 500 signed the petition. Winchester said 153 resident voters declined to sign, and nine said they were undecided on the issue.

The group also garnered 281 signatures from residents and property owners who are not registered to vote in Butternuts, she said.

About 50 people attended Wednesday's meeting, she said.

Winchester, who is running to represent District 2 -- Butternuts, Morris and Pittsfield -- on the Otsego County Board of Representatives, said residents worried about widespread gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing will ask the town board to invite Cooperstown attorney Michelle Kennedy to the board's July 13 meeting.

Kennedy has helped other Otsego County towns, including Springfield and Middlefield, craft laws to ban gas drilling and hydrofracking within their borders.

"We will ask for a draft law by the August meeting," Winchester said.

Eckelmann said the town is slated to have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 29 to discuss updating Butternuts' comprehensive plan.

The issue of banning gas drilling and hydrofracking may be discussed during this meeting, although the plan encompasses much more than this one issue, he said.

Winchester said the Friends of Butternuts will continue to gather signatures, with a goal of gathering 1,000 names.

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