Highland bans gas drilling

On Tuesday, at their regular town meeting, the Highland town council voted 5-0 to ban natural gas drilling and exploration within town limits.

Highland is now the fourth Sullivan County town to pass a local bans on gas drilling, joining Bethel, Tusten and Lumberland. Another Sullivan County town, Delaware, recently weighed in on the opposite side of the issue and passed a local law affirming the rights of landowners to lease their mineral rights.

Highland supervisor Andrew Boyar told the Watershed Post today that the town has been working on the law for several years.

"We were one of the first to be inspired to consider doing a ban on fracking or industrial use," Boyar said. "We're not the first to get to the finish line because we had to do our comprehensive plan, which was linked to the 2010 census."

In March of this year, Boyar said, Highland passed its updated comprehensive plan, paving the way for a local land use law that dealt with gas drilling.

Highland's gas drilling law, like several others that have been passed in the region, was drafted with help from David and Helen Slottje, a pair of attorneys with the Community Environmental Defense Council who have been working pro bono on municipal gas drilling bans in New York State. A River Reporter editorial in May wrote that Highland's ban is similar to those that have been passed in Tusten and Lumberland.

Boyar said that in the process of drafting the law, during which the town held two public hearings, Highland collected about 750 comments from the public, the majority of which were supportive of a town ban on drilling.

"We're a tiny town. Our population is 2,530. To have 750 comments is enormous," he said.

Boyar, who is also the president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter, said that he was motivated to take action on a local level because he did not trust the state to protect towns from the consequences of gas drilling.

"Until we see the language of what the DEC comes up with, we're taking action preemptively and locally. We really don't trust what the final product will be with the state," he said. "The sword of Damocles that's looming is the processing of water -- millions of gallons of contaminated water. I am very fearful that some of this stuff is going to get midnight-dumped in local creeks and streams."

Below: Remarks made by Boyar at last night's town meeting, followed by the text of Highland's new gas drilling law.