City Council approves hydrofracking ban

There will not be any hydrofracking in the city of Dunkirk if a resolution passed by Common Council on Tuesday goes unchallenged.

Council unanimously approved 25-2014, which not only bans hydrofracking in the city, it also encourages the Chautauqua County Legislature to enact anti-fracking legislation as well. Citing possible environmental damage, particularly to the water table, lakes, streams and water purification plants among other concerns, the resolution puts the city ahead of any statewide decision on the issue.

Fredonia resident Minda Rae Amiran is a member of the League of Women Voters and said the league has many Dunkirk members. She urged council to pass the resolution.

“In doing so you will be showing great foresight. You will have taken steps to prevent dangerous contamination of our water, ground and air by high-volume hydrofracking and its waste,” she stated. “While this step may prove to be mainly symbolic in the event Gov. Cuomo does not lift the current moratorium, symbolic actions are important. They express and strengthen the values of our community. You will be putting the long-term economic development of the waterfront, the water district and the health and safety of your constituents ahead of possible short-term financial gains, and that’s something rare and worth celebrating in today’s world.”

Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Stacy Szukala said horizontal hydrofracking has become very controversial, citing the water needed and chemicals used in the process.

Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak then read a prepared statement, saying the issue was “undoubtedly the most controversial and contentious issue for residents living in New York state, as well as other parts of the country.”

“Proponents of this type of gas extraction will claim that there are regulations in place to protect the public’s interest. This is simply not true. In 2005, a bill was passed that included several exemptions or exclusions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law. These laws range from protecting clean water and air to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment,” Kiyak continued. “Horizontal fracking is exempt from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as Superfund.

“Until these exemptions to these laws that protect citizens of the source of all life – fresh potable water – are restored, we cannot be guaranteed that this process will not do irreversible damage to our watershed. Without our watershed, we have no agriculture. We will lose whatever value we have in our homes, since the water supply will be tainted. If we can’t drink the water, why would anyone else relocate here? If this industry is truly safe, then why are they exempt from all of the laws that protect our water and air?”

Councilman William J. Rivera said the previous speakers were “reading my mind.”

“Certain parts of this country cling to certain natural resources. Obviously we know ours in this area is water. … I cannot look at what we’re trying to do with the water district and not protect it.”

Councilman Michael Michalski asked City Attorney Ron Szot what happens if the state lifts its ban.

“It would depend on what the state law actually said and if anyone wanted to read the Constitution, Article I Section 8, the Commerce Clause,” Szot replied, adding it would depend if a municipality could interfere with interstate commerce.

Michalski said, “New York state has definitely missed the boat as far as an economic windfall that comes from what Pennsylvania is doing with their hydrofracking, but I’m not willing to take that chance. I just can’t see the chemicals they’re putting in the ground never resurfacing and having long-term effects.”

Michalski added the revenues being received now may end up paying to clean up environmental issues later. “Only time will tell what happens on that. In the meantime, I’m willing to support this and see where it goes,” he added.

Councilman Adelino Gonzalez said he had been a supporter of fracking for its economic benefits but the unknowns have changed his mind.

“Not everybody has everything correct. I’d rather err on the other side, instead of doing something that could hurt our environment and our water supply,” he explained.

After the meeting Szot was asked what the practical effect of the resolution would be.

“There’s always a benefit, the symbolism,” he replied.

Kiyak said the resolution was a precaution.

“Should the moratorium be lifted, that’s when we will find out if our resolution banning this activity will be upheld. … It’s the hope that should that moratorium be lifted we at least have an extra layer of protection from any company just coming in and saying, ‘yup, we’re here and setting up business.’

“We’ll see. … We’re hoping that if they allow it, this is that layer of protection and we’ll deal with it at that time.”

Kiyak was pleased with the unanimous vote.

“If it doesn’t hold up we’ll deal with it at that point, but at least we made a proactive position and we stated it out loud,” she added. “Perhaps there will be other municipalities that will follow. … At least the state knows that Dunkirk is not interested and if the governor ends up making his decision based on how many people are for and how many people are against, I think if more municipalities join in and say ‘we’re against it,’ that would hold some weight, I would hope. He’s supposed to represent the whole state.”

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