March 12, 2013
Residents voice concern about state forest usage proposals
Hydrofracking among the issues raised at meeting
TRUXTON — A state meeting Monday to accept comment on plans for uses of state forest land in much of Cortland County and nearby counties drew more than 100 people, many of them concerned about the possibility of the natural gas drilling on the land.
The plans cover Hill and Hollow area and Taylor Valley area, which are composed of seven state forests and 17,613 acres.
Until April 11, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is accepting comments on its draft Unit Management Plans, which include the construction of new hiking, mountain bike and snowmobile trails, as well as new campsites and informational kiosks.
Mark Zubal, principal team member for the Hill and Hollow unit, said the plan expands recreational use at state parks without the need for developing facilities. A proposed 10 to 15 miles of single-track mountain bike trails would be implemented on Morgan Hill State Forest, as well as 1.7 miles of all-terrain vehicle trail expansion for people with accessibility needs. The DEC and volunteers from CNY DIRT would cooperate to construct the trails by entering into an Adopt-A-Natural Resource Agreement.
Senior Forester Henry Dedrick explained the highlights for Taylor Valley’s UMP, which include construction of 5.3 miles of hiking trail on Hoxie Gorge State Forest and three parking areas in Taylor Valley State Forest, Hoxie Gorge and Papish Pond multiple-use area.
In addition to new trails, about eight campsites are being designated on Morgan Hill State Forest and 10 in Taylor Valley at locations like Baker School House and Gee Brook state forests.
Dedrick addressed what most had come to hear about when he said that there were currently no leases on either unit for mineral exploration or gas drilling, though the DEC has not made any prohibitions.
“Oil and natural gas are valuable resources which can provide energy and revenue, as well as the opportunity for improvements to the existing infrastructure of these areas and creation of open space to enhance habitat diversity,” Dedrick read from the draft UMP.
The plan notes that installations that could potentially have a long-term effect on a state forest, hydraulic fracturing tools like well pads, pipelines or roads built for that purpose, would be difficult to implement under the UMP.
“Pipeline development on state land will not be permitted if the department determines that it creates a significant long-term conflict with any management activities or public use of the state forests, or with other management objectives in this plan,” it reads.
Cortland County Legislator Kathie Arnold (D-Truxton, Cuyler and Solon) praised the plan for its expansion of recreational trail use, hunting, fishing and trapping, but also warned the overwhelmingly anti-fracking crowd that the DEC is keeping its options open, and that the possibility exists, with the restriction of one well per 300 acres, that up to 78 wells could be drilled throughout these state forests.
“That’s a lot of clear cutting and a lot of single-use roads, and it’s totally incompatible with all the other uses and goals of these UMPs,” Arnold said to applause.
Robert Messenger, chief of the DEC’s Bureau of State Land Management, spoke briefly on an internal disagreement between the Division of Lands and Forestry and the DEC at large.
“If we had our way, there would be no drilling, but that’s not the official position of the DEC,” said Messenger, who came to the hearing from Albany.
One public speaker, Priscilla Young, said she had been with a group that toured hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania and said they were “extraordinarily loud.” There were over 30 speakers in all, most of whom denounced the industry.
Young said the forests around Cuyler and Truxton would be prime candidates for drilling operations since the Marcellus Shale is shallow there and the gas is close to the surface.
She also said if the land is leased to drilling companies, people who own property that border leased public land would be forced to comply with a “compulsory integration” law.
“You may have your lands hydro-fracked against your will,” she said.
There is a moratorium on the polarizing high-volume gas drilling industry in New York state as the DEC continues to finalize its regulations.
Not every comment was directed toward gas drilling in the two units.
Some mountain bikers in the audience took issue with the proposal to designate the North Country National Scenic Trail in Labrador Hollow for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing only, such as Nathan Anderson of Southern Onondaga, who said there were some roads that restricted bikes but did not even restrict trucks.
“There’s nothing about restricting mountain biking that serves in protecting a unique area,” he said, also railing against similar restrictions at Labrador Hollow.
Other hikers, however, like Mary Coffin, said she appreciated the single-use foot trails, adding that they gave her an opportunity to experience a solitary “oneness with nature.”
Overall, outdoor association and club members roundly approved the plans.
UMP’s are drawn up by the Division of Lands and Forests with assistance from the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, the Division of Operations, the Division of Mineral Resources, the Division of Forest Protection and Fire Management and the New York Natural Heritage Program. They often take about 10 years to implement, officials said.
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