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Vestal is not prepared if gas drilling goes forward


Guest viewpoint written by Sue Rapp

3:46 PM, Jan. 5, 2012

In the course of doing the work on Vestal's road preservation petition, we discovered that:

» Gas drilling will put people's mortgages and property values at risk. Some banks will not give mortgages on homes with leases and even to homes near gas-drilling sites. How will people protect their property values and savings if they can't sell their home? What about those who have signed leases, not knowing their mortgage companies may find them in violation of their contract?

» Residents are concerned with the hydraulic fracturing-related traffic the town already is facing. School bus drivers can barely make it down Route 26 picking up school children because of the traffic we are already seeing from Pennsylvania. Currently, the Town of Vestal has no road law specific to gas drilling the way towns with experience in gas drilling have, such as Flower Mound, Texas. We feel the Vestal town board should enact a road law.

» The state Department of Environmental Protection's own union says that they entirely lack the staffing to oversee hyrdrofracking. How then can it be done safely, particularly given the recent revelations about water contamination in Wyoming just made public by the Environmental Protection Agency?

» Earlier in the month, a retired environmental engineering technician with the DEC made the statement that "hydraulic fracturing as it's practiced today will contaminate our aquifers."

» There have been several reports on the exaggeration of job creation from gas drilling. Will gas drilling mean jobs for our area or not? Some people have said there will be a net job loss for our area.

It is for these and other reasons that many residents of Vestal question whether drilling can be done safely. Our current opinion is that the town is unprepared for gas drilling; Vestal cannot assure its residents about their property values, its road maintenance and safety (especially with respect to school children), or the safeguarding of its water, nor any oversight of drilling operations.

Further, there is a lot of fear about noise and light pollution and long-term health impacts. In talking to residents, Vestal Residents for Safe Energy is finding that many people have fears about gas drilling. They fear the increase in crime, the inadequacy of emergency services, accidents, spills, pollution and a general loss of quality of life. In fact, based on all the known evidence, we believe we should not go forward with drilling until all these concerns are adequately addressed.

Now that more than 50 towns and cities across New York have banned drilling — including Binghamton — we know that towns have control over zoning and therefore the power to ban gas drilling. We are now exploring this possibility with the town board, the zoning board and other Vestal residents about how to control through zoning a potentially dangerous and disruptive industrial development. Other New York towns have taken this approach; we think we should learn from their experience.

Rapp is a member of Vestal Residents for Safe Energy (VeRSE).

See: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vestal-Residents-for-Safe-Energy-VeRSE/313261745351049


Roads Need Protection From Drilling Truck Damage


Guest Viewpoint written by Sue Rapp

5:41 PM, Aug. 10, 2011

Roads are the lifelines of our community. We tend to take them for granted until we can't use them, as happened recently during the heavy spring rains.

As a resident of Vestal for 28 years and a member of Friends of Vestal, a group dedicated to enacting a road preservation law, I have spoken with many hundreds of Vestal residents. Whether people are for or against gas drilling makes no difference — they want a road preservation law passed. Almost 500 Vestal residents who are afraid of what will happen to our roads when gas companies start drilling here have signed a petition asking for the law.

A thoughtfully crafted road-use law based on local conditions should be able to protect the health and safety of residents better than a generic approach or a countywide agreement with the gas companies. We want a local law with its stronger protections.

New York is a home-rule state. The Department of Environmental Conservation has explicitly named road regulation as within the province of the town. The town board should enact legislation strong enough to protect the health, safety and well-being of Vestal residents.

If our roads, like many in Pennsylvania, are reduced to rutted dirt byways, how will residents get to work in the morning? What if we cannot return home from work at the end of the day because our cars aren't made to drive under such conditions? How will they plow these roads in winter?

Will hydraulic fracturing convoys, which get paid for time and are known to violate speed limits, pull over so school buses can pick up and drop off our children?

Will emergency vehicles — including fire trucks, ambulances and police — be able to use the roads to save our lives with roads in such disrepair or congested with heavy traffic?

What value will our homes have if we can't use our local roads?

There are very few of us in this town who will see any money from signing a lease; there are many more of us who stand to lose everything.

Our proposal for a road ordinance has unfairly been characterized as limiting access to dairy trucks, gravel haulers and loggers, to name a few. This is false, because our plan would limit use by high- frequency and high-impact users, not just by weight.

The extraordinary monetary costs of gas drilling damage to our roads should not be borne by residents. We are asking the town to issue permits and bonds assuring and ensuring that the gas companies, however many there are, pay for the upgrading, repair, replacement and maintenance of our roads — not the taxpayer.

Some of the roads should be off-limits to the gas trucks. We are asking that these diesel-powered tankers not be allowed to drive on our roads wherever and whenever they like. The town has the power to designate roads for frequent heavy trucks and keep them off the roads close to our schools and our homes.

Rapp is a Vestal resident. Learn more about Friends of Vestal at www.friendsofvestal.org.

Gas Drilling - Impact On Roads

Petition for Vestal Residents

Ask the Vestal Town Board to enact a road preservation law.

Sign the petition here:  http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42946.html

Here's a direct link to the petition:  http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42946.html

Broome County Gas Lease Map

Click here: Broome County Gas Lease Maps  to see the latest map as well as previous maps.

Echo Rd test well with 1 mile radius circle around it

Vestal CEA - French Tract

What is a CEA? (Critical Environmental Area)


C. Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs)
In This Section You Will Learn:

    * What are Critical Environmental Areas (CEAs) and how they are designated;
    * How CEAs affect various actions under SEQR; and,
    * How CEAs affect the determination of action Type under SEQR.

1. What are "Critical Environmental Areas"?

"Critical Environmental Areas" (CEAs) are areas in the state which have been designated by a local or state agency to recognize a specific geographical area with one or more of the following characteristics:

    * A feature that is a benefit or threat to human health;
    * An exceptional or unique natural setting;
    * Exceptional or unique social, historic, archaeological, recreational or educational values; or
    * An inherent ecological, geological or hydrological sensitivity to change that may be adversely affected by any physical disturbance.

2. Who may designate a CEA?

Local or state agencies may designate a CEA under subdivision 6 NYCRR 617.14(g) of the SEQR regulations. Local agencies may designate specific geographic areas within their boundaries as CEAs. State agencies may also designate specific geographic areas which they own, manage or regulate, as CEAs.

3. What advantages does CEA designation offer?

A CEA designation serves to alert project sponsors to the agency's concern for the resources or dangers contained within the CEA. Once a CEA has been designated, potential impacts on the characteristics of that CEA become relevant areas of concern that warrant specific, articulated consideration in determining the significance of any Type I or Unlisted actions that may affect the CEA [see 617.7(c)(1)(iii) and 617.14 (g)(4)].

Often CEAs are recognized and designated because a locality sees this as an avenue to protect or ensure consideration of the resource in land use decisions

4. What is the process for designating a CEA?

Part 617.14 (g) provides the specific procedures for designating a CEA. These include public notice, hearing and filing the designation and maps with the Commissioner and others. The designation will take effect 30 days after these filings have taken place.

It should be noted that the act of designating a CEA is a discretionary decision by the designating agency and is, therefore, subject to SEQR. The action of designating a CEA should be processed as an Unlisted action unless the area proposed for designation in some way triggers a Type I review [e.g. a designated historic site (see 617.4(b)(9))].

5. Are there alternative procedures to consider for use to meet the analysis, notice and hearing requirements when designating a CEA?

Yes. Here are a couple of options.

    * Prior to the required public meeting, an agency may hold an informational meeting with affected land-owners, other interested agencies and the public to consider the following:
          o The characteristics of the potential CEA that make it worth considering for designation;
          o The kind of actions that would require environmental review under SEQR by the proponent agency and by other likely involved agencies;
          o The alternatives for boundaries;
          o Any important community values which could be affected by the designation;
          o Adverse impacts likely to be incurred if the area is not designated as a CEA;
          o Management plans for the CEA. (Determine the compatible activities within and adjacent to the proposed CEA and propose special mitigation measures, acceptable impact thresholds, or compatible future actions.)
    * Prepare a Generic EIS on the proposed CEA. Although a particular CEA designation may warrant a negative determination of significance, a concise Generic EIS on a proposed CEA could provide an effective tool to adequately inform landowners, the general public, and the decision-makers reviewing the CEA proposal.

6. What are some alternatives to CEA designation?

Some alternatives to designating an area as a CEA might be:

    * Adoption of direct controls, such as local wetland, steep slope, aquifer protection districts, or ordinances;
    * Acquisition of an area by a public or not-for-profit entity, plus adoption and implementation of a management plan; and,
    * Identification of an area for which an individual agency establishes a policy to require a Full EAF and coordinated review for all or certain kinds of Unlisted actions.

7. What are examples of CEAs designated because of potential threats to human health?

A CEA designated because of a threat would be something that the municipality or agency would want people to be aware of so that harm to people or inappropriate use of the affected area could be avoided. Examples might be:

    * An inactive hazardous waste site;
    * A steep slope area with the potential for landslides;
    * A high river bank or cliff area with dangerously high erosion potential; or
    * An area that is often prone to dangerous flash floods.

8. Does designating an area as a CEA ensure long term protection or maintenance comparable to that afforded by land use controls?

No. Designation of a CEA does not substitute for, nor does it provide, governmental protection afforded by land use controls such as zoning, or acquisition of restrictive easements, or purchase and direct management. Thus, CEAs cannot be considered as a type of development control. In fact, when an agency lacks a specific jurisdiction over an action within a CEA (for example, a local government without zoning or subdivision regulations) it cannot act as an involved agency in any environmental review for that action, even if it is the local government that actually designated the CEA.

9. Does the designation of a CEA create a new jurisdiction for the designating agency?

No. The designation of a CEA does not create a new jurisdiction for the designating agency. The designation of a CEA gives the sponsor of any action in or substantially contiguous to the area a heightened sense of awareness of the importance of the area. It raises a red flag that there are significant concerns that should be taken into account when any agency is reviewing that action. As discussed in #6 above, it does not grant any agency permitting authority, zoning restrictions, or other jurisdictions that did not already exist before the designation of the CEA.

10. Are Type II actions changed to Type I or Unlisted if they are in a CEA?

No. Type II actions never require environmental review under SEQR. The fact that such actions may occur in or proximal to a CEA does not change their classification.

11. Are Unlisted actions occurring within or substantially contiguous to a CEA automatically considered Type I actions?

No. A CEA does not affect the type classification of an action. In fact, the 1996 changes in SEQR eliminated this previous automatic "elevation" of SEQR actions to Type 1. As now written, only those actions within or contiguous to a CEA that would normally be Type I anywhere else, as per 617.4, are considered Type 1.

12. Will every action in a CEA result in an EIS?

No. Not every action in a CEA requires an EIS. However, potential impacts on attributes or resources which led to the special designation of the area must be addressed in a determination of significance.

13. How can a reviewer determine whether a particular action may impact the environmental characteristics for which a CEA was designated?

Once you know that a proposed action is in, or substantially contiguous to, a CEA, it is a good idea to reach out to the agency that made the CEA designation to understand why the CEA was designated and its characteristics. Once you know why an area became a CEA, it is much easier to determine if your proposed action will have a significant adverse environmental impact.

A link to a listing of all the designated CEAs in the state, by county, is available on the SEQR pages of the DEC website. Where available, a link to a map of the designated CEA has also been provided. The Division of Environmental Permits, DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY l2233-1750, also maintains a listing of all designated CEAs.

Additionally, information on CEAs is also available in the offices of each DEC Region. For CEAs filed after June 1, l987, the DEC regions may have copies of general maps of these CEAs. These maps may be viewed in DEC offices, however, they often are not reproducible. Note that several CEAs have no maps associated with them, but do have boundary descriptions. Detailed information about any CEA, and additional copies of maps, should be obtained from the agency which designated the CEA.

14. Can reviews of actions involving CEAs be managed to avoid creating undue hardships?

The designation as a CEA should not overly burden the review and consideration of actions in or contiguous to it. The existence or creation of a CEA does not alter the classification of an action in terms of SEQR Type. However, all actions of any state and local agency that affect a designated CEA area do require careful reasoned documentation and explanations regarding the impact on an area of important environmental concern. Coordinated review during a SEQR review, while not absolutely required, may be a good course of action to assess all potential negative impacts.

A community or agency can help reduce hardships that may be associated with the existence of a CEA if they critically evaluate the size and boundaries of the CEA when it is being drafted.

Vestal CEA - well field

Vestal Environmentally Sensitive Areas

This is the document, prepared by the CAC, which the Town Board used to back up their declaration of the French Tract as a CEA in 1993. According to Cynthia Westerman, who heads the CAC, it has been modified a little since then, but there have been no substantial changes.

April 10, 2001
Minor correction: Feb 5, 2002


In 1993, the Conservation Advisory Commission (CAC) identified the areas within Vestal (listed below) as "sensitive". This classification means that the area fulfils an important ecological function, provides direct protection for another significant natural resource, or has historical value. The designation of an area as "sensitive" would not legally preclude its being developed. However, the Conservation Commission felt that, wherever possible, development should be channeled away from these areas and a full New York State environmental review be required before any development in them be approved.

The list of areas was proposed for inclusion in the Town’s updated Master Plan. Now 8 years have passed since the Commission approved the list. Changes in land use have made it necessary to update the list and the accompanying descriptions so they can be inclued in the the Master Plan currently being developed.

The areas are:

1.The upper part of the Fuller Hollow Creek watershed, particularly two small wetlands that are relatively undisturbed.

2.A wetland region in the upper Willow Run watershed that is a one of the very few documented recharge areas for the upland aquifer. The wetland also currently plays an important role in limiting erosion in downstream sections of Willow Run Creek.

3.The Rock Road Glen which provides scenic beauty, has geological significance and could become a very attractive asset to the Town if preserved and properly maintained.

4.The land immediately south of the Binghamton University Nature Preserve.

5.The French Woods and Table Rock ridge area in the extreme southern part of the Town.

6.The old tow path, extending from Mill Road, along the Susquehanna River directly north of Round Top hill.

7.The west bank of Choconut Creek, between Front Street and Juneberry Road bounded on the west by property lines for houses on Torrance and Glenwood Aves.

8.The east facing slope of Grippen Hill and the forest along the southern part of Noyes Road.

Each area will be identified on USGS topographic maps submitted to the Master Plan Consultants as part of this document.

Following is more information on each area as well as references to other documents that support their designation as "sensitive" by the Vestal Conservation Commission.

Area 1. The upper Fuller Hollow area has been noted by the Conservation Advisory Commission in numerous documents addressed to the Town Board. Its importance in preventing further erosion on Fuller Hollow Creek can not be stressed enough. Problems from previous development in the Fuller Hollow watershed are a well known problem in the Town of Vestal and need no further documentation herein. The northwestern of these wetlands, was disturbed in the early 1990s and the other one will be lost if uncontrolled further residential development occurs. A geological study of the Fuller Hollow watershed is found in Watershed Urbanization Response by Fuller Hollow Creek, Vestal, New York, by Ellen Jeanne Fillo (1984). CAC produced documents, directed to the Supervisor and Town Board, urging preservation of the upper portions of the Creek and wetlands are:

(1) Comments on rezoning property on the Fuller Hollow Creek August 24, 1987

(2) Letter on SEQR law, environmental assessment and development in Fuller Hollow, September 29, 1987;

(3) Letter on storm drainage problems, February 22, 1988;

(4) Revised recommendations on storm water drainage, February 28, 1989.

Area 2. The wetland area on Willow Run Creek was first noted in Effects of Urbanization on Storm Water Runoff For Watersheds in the Willow Run Area Vestal, N. Y., by Ann S. Robbins (1984). The report says:

If the water can be slowed down and detained sufficiently, much of the erosion would be greatly reduced... . There are at least two marshy areas along the Willow Run stream channel that could be utilized for such storage. There is a fairly large, wet area above and beneath the upper power line, (fig. 67), and a smaller wet area below the lower power lines, (fig. 68). Both are within areas designated on the Murphy and Kren map as residential. It is imperative that these be mapped and left undisturbed. Check dams, constructed of large trees growing in the area and felled across the stream, should be placed below these marshy spots. They have a great capacity to absorb water "like a sponge".

As well as serving water retention, these wetland areas provide a quiet scenic refuge that has long been enjoyed by hikers and bird watchers. The CAC has noted these wetlands as worthy of protection in a two previous advisories (1) comments on a local law to regulate local freshwater wetlands in the Town of Vestal to Supervisor Fairbrother and the Town Board on May 3, 1988 and (2) letter on sensitive areas to be preserved on the Vestal Master Plan to Supervisor Robert Nasiatka and Paul Franks, Planning Board Chair, on June 30, 1992. The Willow Run area is currently being encroached on two sides by the residential development which is creeping up the Willow Run Creek and extending east from African Road.

Area 3.The Town of Vestal Open Space Inventory (1974), lists this area as one of two most deserving of protection in the entire Town A Vestal Environmental Review: Report on Geology and Related Factors (1975) describes the Rock Road Glen as:

...one of the most beautiful little bedrock streams in the Town of Vestal. It is an unique and interesting area, the geology and morphology of which make it unsuitable for development. Its location adjacent to the Choconut Valley where extensive development is planned would make it an ideal recreation spot for local use. If such a fragile place is not preserved and wisely managed, it will most likely be environmentally degraded in the near future.

Development has gotten very close to the glen in the nearly 30 years since it was identified for preservation by the CAC. After severe flooding in January of 1996, the Town closed the road traversing the glen from Powderhouse Road to Bunn Hill Road. Roads from both sides dead-end before the center of the glen. This closure has cut down the use of the area as an illegal dump site which was threatening it in 1993. It also will inhibit further residential development in the closed part of the road. However, further building of houses will spoil the scenic, remote character of the glen and further intrusion should be discouraged. The CAC continues to think that the glen area (particularly with the road closure) would make a nice Town Park.

Area 4. The Nature Preserve itself contains a N.Y. State protected wetland which can not be developed. At the time this report was first written (1993), the University, did not own all the land surrounding the wetland. A few years ago, this property was purchased by Binghamton University and so there is protection for a buffer around the pond. However, there is still privately owned land on the steep hill south of the Preserve owned by the University. The Commission feels that extensive development of this land would also compromise the educational and ecological values of the Nature Preserve. Hence, we still recommend this area be included in our 2001 list.

Area 5. The Vestal section of this large area connects with a similar section in the Town of Binghamton and both are of ecological, geological and historical importance. The Broome County Environmental Management Council recommended that the whole French Woods tract be preserved in "Comments on Conserving Open Spaces in New York State and Generic Environmental Impact Statement" (June 1992). In 1993, the French Tract was on a short list of sites for a possible new Broome County Landfill. At this time, the Vestal Town Board designated the whole western part, which is in the Town, as a Critical Environmental Area (CEA) under NY SEQR. The designation of an area as a CEA gives additional protection and it also shows the Town Board is aware of the special environmental characteristics of the land so designated.

The land consists of a ridge which partially parallels the NY-PA border and surrounding forested areas. Property in the tract is currently owned primarily by logging companies and large land owners. Part of the region is held by the Town and known as Jones Park. The eastern part (outside of Vestal) is included in the proposed Aquaterra Broome County Park. The complete area (Binghamton and Vestal) comprises the largest contiguous tract of unbroken forest in the vicinity of metropolitan Binghamton.

The French Woods has long been used for recreation, contains numerous hiking trails and several wetlands, including Bear Swamp which is protected by NY State. Table Rock Ridge is a unique geological formation for the local area and the land herein designated "sensitive" contains the grade of an old railway which was used for shipping timber to Canada in the early 1800s.

Area 6. This tow path has historic value dating from its use with a canal, the remains of which is also located near Mill Road. Vestal Environmental Review: Report of the Geology and Related Factors (1975) notes Roundtop Hill and the tow path as important geologically. They consist of a "...somewhat unique landform called an umlaufberg or bedrock island within a valley filled stratified and fluvial material." The Town of Vestal Open Space Inventory (1974) recommends protection of both the dirt road along the River and north face of Roundtop Hill. The report notes: "This is a unique area of Vestal, a place of peace close to the Vestal Parkway but seemingly miles away." The 1974 Inventory designates this so-called "Susquehanna Promenade" as one of the two most worthy areas in the Town to be protected.

The area has potential for allowing public access to the river, development as a park or part of a proposed Susquehanna Riverbank trail. Its importance in a riverbank greenway or trail system can not be over emphasized. The land does not have much potential for residential or commercial development due to the steep slope of Roundtop, narrowness of the flat dirt road portion and its proximity to the river. Currently, the tow path is inaccessible to the public due to restrictions by land owners.

Area 7. This section has potential to be part of a river/creek bank trail system. It contains land in the flood plain of Choconut Creek and, further west, land with extremely steep slopes for development. See the description in Parcel 24 of The Vestal Open Space Inventory (1974). The northern part (between Front St. and Echo Road) is commonly known as the "Ford Tract". In the late 1980s, several proposals to develop the Ford Tract land were turned down by the Vestal Town Board due to environmental and access considerations. In 1998, the Town updated its water system to add a new pumping station to serve the southern part of the Town. In connection with this work, a wide path was cut paralleling the Creek from Glenwood Road. Town Board Meeting Minutes from 1988-1990 will provide evidence that special care is needed if this property is ever to be developed. Its undeveloped value as a stream corridor greenway instead is emphasized by the Conservation Commission. The southern part (north of Juneberry Road) used to contain a number of small wetlands, according to long time area residents. Diverse fauna exist in this area despite its nearness to population.. A gravel and stone mining operation near Meeker Road has caused visible damage to the Creek. Buried sewer laterals have been exposed and the stream bed has been signicficantly lowered in the area mined.

Area 8. These sections of so far undisturbed mature forest contain slopes too steep for practical development. If left intact, they provide important wildlife habitat and maintain a "green" aspect to Vestal. In The Town of Vestal Open Space Inventory (1974), these regions were designated for protection either by purchase or inclusion in an Agricultural District. Parts of the forest originally specified in 1974 (particularly on Noyes Rd) have had residences built on road frontage in the intervening years. However, substantial undeveloped areas remain deserving of protection.

Finally The Town of Vestal Open Space Inventory from 1974 lists a number of other parts of the Town as worthy of protection. In the 27 years since this Plan was published many of these areas have been irrevocably lost. Fortunately, a few still remain completely or partially "open". Although they are not included as "sensitive" in the list above, such regions are still valuable and can be important in preserving a semi-rural character that draws people to Vestal. Some such areas are: Jones Road Forest, Grippen Hill Road Forest (now partially disturbed), Tracy Creek State Forest, African Road Forest (now significantly disturbed), view areas on Bunn Hill and Noyes Roads (now partially blocked), Black Ash Swamp (significantly impacted by logging), upper areas of Tracy Creek watershed (partially disturbed), and extreme western portions of the Town, near the Tioga County Line.