July 30, 2014

Landowners appeal frack suit dismissal




Staff Reporter

A coalition of 70,000 landowners is challenging a state Supreme Court ruling that dismissed two lawsuits calling for an expedient end to the environmental review of shale gas development in the state.
The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York brought two lawsuits in February, challenging the state’s delay in finishing its health and environmental analysis of potential impacts from shale gas development.
But on July 14, State Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough dismissed both lawsuits, saying the petitioners did not have standing to sue Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Health Department to compel completion of the review.
The coalition claiming 70,000 members announced Monday that it filed an appeal of the decision.
Scott Kurkoski, lawyer for the coalition, filed the notice of appeal along with Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation.
Kurkoski said briefs would be filed in the case in coming months and he expects arguments to be made in the Appellate Division Third Department by January.
Kurkoski said landowners with rights to mineral resources on their land absolutely have standing to challenge the state.
“The state has affected our private property rights and we certainly have the ability to challenge that,” Kurkoski said.
Kurkoski said the ultimate goal is for the environmental review of hydrofracking to be completed so landowners prevented from developing their resources can start doing so.
Hydrofracking is the process of injecting large quantities of chemically treated water underground to extract shale gas. The state review of the matter has dragged on for years in what many critics claim is a political delay tactic by Cuomo.
“This process has been going on for six years and along the way there are real people suffering hardships because of what the state is doing,” Kurkoski said.
The Mountain States Legal Foundation is supporting the coalition in its appeal, said Kurkoski, because it takes on similar cases involving government taking of property rights.
“They understand what’s happening in New York is wrong and they’re willing support us on that,” Kurkoski said.
In a written statement, Joint Landowners Coalition President Dan Fitzsimmons echoes Kurkoski, saying “the court cannot deny standing to landowners who seek to challenge the State’s ability to take their property rights.”
Ken Diaz, who heads the Taylor Land Group, a landowners coalition that represents 159 landowners in Taylor and parts of Cuyler, Truxton, DeRuyter, Solon and Cincinnatus, said he supports the appeal.
“I think we’ve got just as much standing as the people that are against it. The sad thing is the only people making money now are the lawyers,” Diaz said.
He said the environmental review has dragged on long enough.
The Taylor Land Group is part of the Joint Landowners Coalition.
The Taylor Land Group coalition represents 19,000 acres, and Diaz has said the landowners only want gas drilling to proceed if the technology of hydrofracking is proven safe, but he thinks the state has had ample time to study the issue.

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