February 11, 2014
Mr. Lynn Joy, Town Supervisor
Morris Town Board
Morris NY 13808
Dear Mr. Joy and Members of the Morris Town Board:
Following the recent elections and changes to the Board’s composition, we want to take this opportunity to welcome the newly elected members to the Board. Since 2009, concerned citizens of Morris have appealed to the Town Board to address the known hazards associated with the extreme energy extraction process of high volume horizontal hydrofracking known as “fracking” and to present documented evidence on the dangers of fracking. Carol Nealis and Dawn Sieck gave impassioned pleas to the Board in 2009 asking for protections for our community against fracking, and as growing local and national concern increased over the dangers, concerned residents of Morris eventually formed the citizens’ organization known as Advocates for Morris in 2011. In May 2011, Attorney Michele Kennedy urged the Board to consider its rights and responsibilities under the law. In June 2011, a signed petition proposing a local law banning fracking and a draft Stand-Alone Prohibition against fracking were presented by Bob Thomas on behalf of Advocates for Morris, followed by the Board’s formation of a gas drilling committee.
With growing local and national concern over the dangers of fracking, Advocates for Morris formed affiliations with the Otsego County Coalition Against Unsafe Drilling and New Yorkers Against Fracking, and retained the services of attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC provides legal and policy assistance to towns and local governments seeking protection from fracking through its “Community Fracking Defense Project.”
Advocates for Morris recently conducted a community-wide opinion survey on fracking in an effort to poll local citizens. Survey mailing costs were underwritten by our members and through a grant from Otsego 2000. The sole survey question—“Do you want to allow fracking for shale gas in Morris?”— was mailed to every Morris household and generated responses from 462 Morris residents over age 18. The unsolicited mailing yielded a surprisingly good response rate of 33% and we would like to share the survey results with the Board.
The majority of the respondents (71%) were opposed to fracking in Morris. Those among the 29% minority of respondents who said they favor fracking believed it would “provide economic stability and tax relief to the area.” The survey return-mail forms included direct comments from respondents that ranged from “Thank you for taking the trouble to survey your neighbors,” to “Mind your own business.” One resident urged officials to “listen to the voices of your people,” adding that the “possibility of poisoning or contamination of the water supply is not worth the risk.” Another stressed the importance of exploring renewable energy sources. Several expressed fears that property values might plummet if fracking were to be permitted, with some saying they have delayed investing in property improvements due to the threat of financial loss from fracking seen in other areas of the country. Our recent survey records will remain on file at the New York offices of NRDC, whose interest in the survey returns is tied to the legal and strategic advice they are providing to us in our campaign for good governance and protections against fracking.
While opinions may differ, growing numbers of people are organizing nationally and internationally to protest fracking. It has been said “everyone lives downstream,” yet who can really say where upstream ends and downstream begins? Ultimately, every person is downstream from someone else and potentially affected by the harmful actions of others. As other local towns have conceded, there is too much at stake for the safety of our communities to consider the benefits touted by the drilling industry for fracking in rural communities. From what is known to the public, the drilling industry has very little to lose and virtually no penalties to fear when failed wells, broken promises, financial loss to landowners, water contamination and toxic waste are left in the wake for innocent citizens and communities to endure and clean up. People are demanding stringent governmental controls and accountability from the drilling industry given the health and environmental risks associated with dangerous chemicals used in the fracking process.
Public protest and divided positions are clearly not limited to Morris or the efforts of Advocates for Morris. Our organization’s concerns simply mirror the growing concerns voiced nationally and internationally. Because of those concerns, bans and moratoria on fracking have already been enacted by many towns, counties, states and countries to protect the health and welfare of their people. Throughout New York State, there is growing hue and cry over the dangers of fracking and calls for a statewide ban. (Elected Officials to Protect New York (EOPNY) at nyelectedofficials.org has a resource page containing some good reference material.)
Here in Otsego County, increasing numbers of municipalities have implemented bans on fracking, including our two neighboring towns—New Lisbon and Butternuts. Despite the bans in those neighboring towns, residents still have concerns given their proximity to Morris. They question their welfare in the event the government of Morris fails to implement similar protective measures.
A number of Advocates for Morris members and citizens of Morris have presented information on fracking to the Board during privilege of the floor, requesting that the information be recorded in the meeting minutes. The town’s records contain volumes of written appeals from citizens and Advocates for Morris, as well as documented evidence concerning the impacts of fracking to human health and the environment. Given this history, Advocates of Morris asks the Board and its new members to conduct a retrospective review of this evidence by examining the town’s records and meeting minutes in consideration of the many dangers associated with fracking and how those dangers stand to harm our community and citizens. While we are encouraged by the results of our recent opinion survey and by the recent changes in the Morris Town Board, we once again call upon members of this Board to meet their responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of the people by joining with our neighboring communities to enact a ban against fracking in Morris.
Advocates for Morris
PO Box 177
Morris NY 13808
C. Natural Resources Defense Council
New Yorkers Against Fracking
Otsego County Coalition Against Unsafe Drilling