This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gas commission meeting rescheduled

The meeting of the Town of Delaware's natural gas drilling commission scheduled for tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Hortonville firehouse has been cancelled. The next meeting will be next Monday, November 5.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Green grow the dollars

UPDATE 10/31/12: the Agriculture and Sustainability meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday, November 1, has been postponed to Tuesday, November 13.

At 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, at a meeting of the Legislative Committee on Agriculture and Sustainability at the Government Center in Monticello, NY, Sullivan County’s Office of Sustainability will be fighting for its life. At issue is funding that will decide whether the county can move forward and break ground as a leader and full participant in the green growth industries and lifestyles of the 21st century, or be left in the economic backwaters of an outmoded and increasingly desperate way of life.

Admittedly, the idea of allocating county funds to anything but today’s bills is particularly tough during a period of major financial crisis such as that we currently face, with double-digit tax increases in prospect. Some might argue that matters such as climate change and sustainability are too distant and abstract to worry about in the midst of such an emergency. But even stipulating that premise for the sake of argument*, that way of thinking misses the point.

The plain truth is that the only way you can extract yourself from a deficit on any long-term, ongoing basis is to make your economy grow, and economies are made to grow by bold investment, not by nickel-and-dime cheeseparing. Businesses grow by investing money in new directions, new lines and new means of production. That’s not to say that improvements in efficiency and elimination of waste are not important. But any company that is trying to survive purely by cutting expenses is clearly on its way out the door. The same applies to government.

The steps the county, its communities, businesses and households can take to attain sustainability are all part and parcel of the most vibrant economic trends in the nation—indeed, on the planet—today. Technologies, energy sources, products and services that are part of renewable cycles are what’s up-and-coming around the globe. These practices also, by definition, reduce expenditures in the long run, because they are all about the efficient use of resources. If we fail to connect with such trends, that financial emergency we’re all so worried about is likely to become permanent.

So we must invest somewhere in order to extract ourselves from the current budget bind, and it looks like the place to put our money is the economic trend of the future: green. And maybe that’s also the answer to another question I’ve heard bandied about a lot recently, that of branding. How can we brand Sullivan County to appeal to businesses, tourists, entrepreneurs, homeowners? How about green?

Brand us as not only a rural retreat, but a rural retreat committed to maintaining its open spaces, recycling its resources, generating local energy, constructing zero-energy buildings, making innovations in energy-efficient, low-emission transportation. Brand us as the little engine that could, an area that started out poor and disadvantaged but nevertheless showed others the way in creating a viable way of life that respects and nourishes natural cycles. Do that, and we will have an identity that will be immensely attractive to tourists, second-home purchasers and entrepreneurs from nearby metropolitan areas. And that, in turn, will allow us to incubate business, attract business and create jobs.

 It is this opportunity, as well as a commitment to good environmental stewardship that was opened up when the legislature passed the Sullivan County’s Green Vision Statement and the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. It is this opportunity that the development and implementation of the Sullivan County Climate Action Plan (CAP), with which the CAP Advisory Committee is tasked, should be all about. To take advantage of it, actions will be required at the county level, at the town level, and by businesses and consumers, and it is the business of the CAP advisory panel to enlist the help and participation of all these sectors and facilitate their actions. But seed money is required, among other things to fund a technical support staff to help the volunteer members of the panel, and that’s what Sullivan County lawmakers are being asked for on November 1.

Some of the projects for which funding is being requested will start to generate savings almost immediately, like energy management for county buildings and facilities. Others will take more time, like the collection and analysis of energy use data from Sullivan County towns needed as a basis for developing plans to increase efficiency. But all aim in the same direction: helping us to grow out of the deficit. I hope Sullivan County legislators have the vision to see it as such, and to help the county take its next step toward a better future.

*I am deliberately avoiding here the argument as to whether climate change itself is an emergency—the most dire one we face. I believe it is, and have argued about it elsewhere. But I don’t think anyone has to agree with that belief in order to understand the advisability of investing in this area.

Volunteers sought for emergency shelter in Tusten

Town of Tusten Superintendent Carol Wingert has sent out the following appeal in light of the impending hurricane:
As you all know we have a major storm facing us and the strong possibility of lengthy power outages. If people are out of power too long, we may have people in need of shelter. I am asking for volunteers to man our Emergency Shelter if need be. We will need people to help set up, cook, clean, prepare, and take down. If you can help in any way or know someone who can, please forward to me your contact information, (phone/email) so that I can create a list of folks to contact.

Thank you and please stay safe. ~Carol Ropke Wingert

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Truth hurts: mailers but no debate from Lang in Tusten

Tusten voters who have now received five electioneering mailings from town council candidate Ned Lang (six, if you count one mailed during the primary), might want to ask themselves the following question: why is it that Lang is happy sending out mailers, but has turned down at least three proposals to present his views side by side in public with his opponent Andrea Reynosa?*

A brief review of the content of the mailings, which consist largely of unsupported allegations against Reynosa and her allies, rather than specific proposals for improving the town, suggests a possible answer: perhaps Lang’s allegations can’t stand up to the light of day.Here are some of the actual facts behind a few of Lang’s charges:
  • The 11-member zoning rewrite committee consists of 10 Tusten residents, including many who are or have been important town officials, plus sewer and water superintendent Dominic Hillard, who currently lives in Callicoon, but is included for reasons too obvious to be explained—and hardly constitutes a majority. The committee is chaired by long-time resident and deputy town clerk Carol Coney, and other members are Supervisor Carol Wingert; councilman, UDC alternate and previous ZBA Chairman Tony Ritter; Planning Board Chairman Ed Jackson; Lisa Dowling, who was a councilwoman when the current zoning ordinance that is being amended was written; Code Enforcement Officer Gary Amerbach, Town Assessor Ken Baim; current ZBA Chairman Kevin McDonough; Sue Sullivan, Conservation Council and UDC representative; and Town Clerk Kathy Michell.

    Why any of these is to be considered any less a “stakeholder” than Ned Lang, whose most recent contribution to town governance was to resign from the ZBA last year after having been cited by the town for posting a sign that was larger than permitted by the ordinance then in force—and then engaging in still-ongoing litigation against the town on account of that citation—is a puzzle on which many would probably welcome illumination.
  • The Big Eddy Waterfront Revitalization Project would create and enhance public spaces, including rare public waterfront access space, in the hamlet of Narrowsburg. The river walk would be placed about 12 feet below the existing back of the Main Street buildings, so it would not create an additional access to them. By granting easements, Main Street building owners are ceding space and privacy to the general public, not gaining a special privilege. (See “Ignorance is Strength” below.)
  • A state grant of $77,000, applied for in 2009 under a different town administration, has been received to go toward the $154,000 cost of the engineering study phase of the Big Eddy project, and additional grant money as well as in-kind matching are to be used to go toward the local share. At no point have $150,000 in Tusten taxpayer dollars been used, or proposed to be used, for this project. For more facts, not fiction, about the project, visit http://www.tusten.org/FAQ_Narrowsburg.pdf
  • No one has suggested moving Veterans Park, contrary to the straw man that has been set up in one of Lang’s flyers and in a whisper campaign on the streets; all that has ever been suggested is to enhance it—just as he proposes. The difference is that Reynosa proposed it long before he ever did so, and has already put some elbow grease and fundraising (not taxpayer dollar spending) expertise into the project.
Sending out mailings is fine as far as it goes, but if the mailings aren't complemented by public interchanges, they allow candidates to avoid accountability for what they say. Though it wasn't possible to schedule a Meet the Candidates session with both candidates present, Reynosa plans to engage in a public Q&A session on Saturday, October 27 at 4 p.m. at the Tusten Town Hall. Voters who have questions about Lang's mailings, or more to the point, about what Reynosa plans to do to make the town a better place, should make every effort to attend.
*The three invitations were a proposal for a radio or online debate made by Tony Ritter in a letter to the editor; an invitation to participate in a proposed documentary representing the two sides in the election; and an invitation to the Meet the Candidates event to be held by Tusten Concerned Citizens at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 27 at the town hall.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ignorance is strength: the doublespeak attack on Tusten's esplanade

In George Orwell’s “1984,” the government maintained control of the populace largely by the destruction of its capacity for rational thought. It accomplished this goal by dint of a particularly bold and corrosive style of lying that consisted in concealing the truth by simply calling things their opposites: “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” (This practice has entered the popular lexicon in the word “doublespeak,” though Orwell himself referred to it in his book with the words “newspeak” and “doublethink.”)

The attacks currently being made in the Town of Tusten against the Big Eddy Waterfront Development Project, aka the esplanade—currently spearheaded by Ned Lang, candidate for a seat on the town council—invoke this Orwellian tactic. What the project is about is providing something that is unfortunately quite rare on the Upper Delaware riverfront, not only in Tusten but all the way along its banks: access to the riverfront for members of the general public, those of us who are not fortunate enough to personally own waterfront land.

The increase of such access up and down the river corridor is in fact an obvious goal for the community to strive for. To begin with, it would improve the quality of life for all who live in the river valley but, ironically, have all too little opportunity to get up close and personal with the river itself. It would also increase the attractiveness of the area to tourists, bringing in more visitors, more business, and more dollars circulating throughout the community. And any hamlet that could provide a particularly attractive access would obviously be particularly competitive in attracting traffic, both local and from outside the area, stimulating business in its environs—and oh yes, boosting the tax base and county sales tax revenue.

Yet somehow, a small cadre in the Town of Tusten has succeeded in creating a foothold of opposition against the town’s Big Eddy Waterfront Vitalization Project, which would accomplish just these public benefits. It has done so by averring, without foundation in fact, that the project would benefit just an elite few businessmen on Main Street.

First of all, the current project, plans for which will shortly be posted in the window of the National Park Service office on Main Street in Narrowsburg, includes a river walk to be built a good 12 feet below the level of the lower stories of the Main Street buildings. It’s true that some of the plans drawn up years ago by planners such as Tom Shepstone called for a boardwalk that would directly abut the buildings and provide entrances to them, essentially expanding the business district. (Frankly, I can’t understand why that would be seen as a bad thing for the town, but under the circumstances I don’t have to even get into that argument. It’s not going to be done.)

So by granting easements across their properties, the current Main Street businesses aren’t gaining new business space or an increase in rental footage. What they are doing is giving up part of their properties to the public, so that people can take a stroll or sit close to the river, something that is not currently possible. They will be losing some privacy, and picking up some potential noise and disturbance. Main Street businesses will pick up only the same benefits that the town as a whole will pick up: more people visiting, more dollars circulating throughout the town.

This is the project that Lang and his cadre have somehow convinced a significant segment of the populace is an elitist project. Yeah. And ignorance is strength.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some grains as small as a mustard seed

Following the recent sturm und drang in the Town of Delaware surrounding the Roeder Resolution and its aftermath, two resolutions passed by the council tonight at the regular town meeting could present the seeds of a very different direction for the town.

First was a resolution that the town should sign the Climate Smart Community Pledge, essentially a pledge to join in Sullivan County’s Climate Action Plan initiative to reduce carbon emissions by all sectors, adopt sustainable practices and policies—and just incidentally create jobs and economic growth centered around this transformation. Delaware joined the towns of Tusten, Highland and Lumberland in signing the pledge. The town’s next step will be to collect baseline information about its current carbon emissions. After that, it can start developing particular projects, eligible for funding, that can carry forward the plan’s goals.

Second was a resolution to propose Local Law #3, the Delaware version of the Local Road Use and Preservation Law created by the Sullivan County Multi-Municipal Taskforce (MMTF). The law spells out a system to make sure that when new, heavy industrial users come into the area, they, not taxpayers, pay for the damage they inflict on town roads—while screening out existing, traditional traffic by agricultural, lumbering and construction vehicles and the like.

Admittedly, you can’t make too much of either of these at this point. As noted both by Supervisor Ed Sykes and by Michael Chojnicki, who made the request that the council act on the pledge tonight, it does not actually force anybody to do anything. If, once specific emissions-reducing projects have been proposed, the council elects to vote every one of them down, it can still do so.

And the road use law has only been proposed, not voted on—indeed, the hearing has yet to be held. Moreover, in the past year or so, the work of the MMTF has in fact run into opposition in the county from several angles. Some see it as a tacit concession that natural gas drilling activity will be coming into our area, coupled with a mistaken implication that the steps taken by the law adequately mitigate the damage of that activity. (I find these criticisms misguided; see http://www.riverreporter.com/editorial/16/2011/07/12/issue-hand .)  On the other side are people like town council candidate Ned Lang in Tusten, who argues that the law is an unreasonable interference with business activities. We’ll have to wait until the hearing to see if such opposition raises its head in Delaware.

But what is interesting to note for now is that both resolutions passed without dissent either on the council or from the audience, and that means one very important thing: right now, despite all the recent contention, there are a few issues on which people on both sides of the gas drilling rift in the Town of Delaware can find common ground. With regard to the pledge, the common ground is that good stewardship of the environment may be possible to pursue at the same time as economic renewal. With regard to the road use law, it is that it should not be the obligation of small rural households to bankroll industrial corporations’ usage of the taxpayers’ common resources. 

From these small beginnings, perhaps some way forward can be found to a future in which green energy and conservation initiatives, not extractive industries, provide the basis of economic vitality, and town government recognizes its obligation to protect all the common resources of the town—including air and water, not just roads. Pollyanna stuff at the moment, certainly. But the climate plan and road law ought at least provide a place where people can begin to talk about it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Field & Stream Club files action against Town of Highland re drilling ban

EID Marcellus has posted a news story reporting that the Town of Highland's Field & Stream Club has filed a notice of action with the Town of Highland, a precursor to legal action, claiming that the town has violated its constitutional rights in enacting a law banning the club's ability to access its mineral rights.


Email notification sent to EID by the club's attorney noted that "Additional causes of action are also pled in the Notice of Claim filed with the Town of Highland Clerk on October 5, 2012."

 I have no further information on this at this time.

WWEIII: No, it’s not about wrestling

Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR) sponsored its third annual Water Water Everywhere conference on Tuesday, October 9, coupling technical presentations related to increasing water flows to relieve thermal stress on trout with talks on the power of coalition building to actually implement such policy goals.

All about thermal releases

The technical talks presented three developments that could wind up dovetailing nicely to mitigate the thermal emergencies that have repeatedly threatened the trout in the Upper Delaware’s coldwater fishery in recent years. This year, for instance, there were four instances in which high water temperatures prompted urgent requests by the New York DEC and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to the Delaware River Basin decree parties (the State of New York, the City of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey) to release extra water to cool things down. There was a response to only one of these. One of those thermal stress episodes lasted seven days, without relief.

Representative Fred Henson of the NY DEC and Mark Hartle of the PA Fish and Boat Commission noted that one of the problems in obtaining thermal releases is the fact that the decision can only be made by a vote of the decree parties. Reaching the officials who represent the parties and getting them to vote on the issue, let alone getting a favorable vote, presents serious logistical issues. The response-time problem is worsened by the fact that there is a roughly 12-hour lag in getting the water from Cannonsville to Lordsville on the main stem.

Noting that it is politically unlikely that the decree parties will cede their decision-making power with regard to thermal releases to any automatic protocol, Hartle and Henson suggested as an alternative a decision tree that would help objectify the decree parties’ deliberation process, allowing them to come more rapidly and reliably to a conclusion about what needs to be done. The idea is that the creation of clear criteria under which thermal releases should be authorized ought at least to reduce the hemming and hawing time, while tending to encourage a favorable response to requests.

Peter Kolesar presented a work in progress with regard to quantifying, via rigorous statistical methods, exactly how much water needs to be released to relieve thermal stress defined as water temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and showing that in the past there would have been plenty of water available to do so within the parameters of the Interim Excess Release Quantity available in the current flow regime. When complete, Kolesar’s models could provide, in effect, a mathematically rigorous version of Hartle and Henson’s decision tree, giving specific criteria for when water should be released for thermal stress purposes and how much. It would also provide the decree parties with the comfort of scientific evidence that the amount of water being released has been calculated for maximum efficiency, so that the desired result is achieved with nothing being squandered. Kolesar expects his work to be ready for prime time in one or two months.

Garth Pettinger of Trout Unlimited gave a presentation on the potential impact of the completion of the Croton reservoir system's new filtration system sometime in 2013. That part of the NYC drinking water system has been offline since 2008, and had been experiencing periodic shutdowns even before then. Pettinger argued that the water newly available from Croton, up to 290mgd, ought to be deducted from the amount drawn from the Delaware system, allowing for much higher Delaware reservoir releases year round.

Some in the audience noted that water from Croton would need pumping to get to NYC, making this a costly tradeoff for the city and one that it is unlikely to concede. But I did some research after the conference and found in the final EIS for the plant (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/croton/execsumm.pdf) that an average flow of 144mgd per day from Croton is anticipated. That amount can be driven by gravity; indeed, in the past, the gravity flow from Croton has supplied about 10% of the city’s water needs, and it goes to customers in low-lying areas of the Bronx and Manhattan.

That 144mgd is not sufficient to carry out Pettinger’s proposed program of increased flows years round, but it is probably more than enough to offset any draws required by the precise targeting of the Kolesar approach, which could potentially make it an easier political sell.

The power of we

The day concluded with a couple of presentations about coalitions, one by Anthony Caligiuri and Kim Beidler of the newly formed Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), and one by Jeff Skelding and Rachael Dawson of America’s Great Waters Coalition. Both presentations pointed out the degree to which the interests of small grass-roots organizations can be leveraged by joining together with other like-minded groups. Such groups can operate on what Skelding called “the NATO principle:” what you do to one of us, you do to all--a principle that can operate both as a shield and a proactive power.

The most stunning statistic with regard to the leverage that can be obtained by coalitions was cited by Caligiuri, who noted of one organization, the Chesapeake Bay Coalition, that the number of individuals represented has grown to 1 million, in an area whose population is 17 million. One in 17 people in that area can stand behind any initiative proposed by that coalition – a very powerful political fact.

In conversation after the meeting, Dan Plummer, chairman of FUDR, which is already a member of both CDRW and the Great Waters Coalition, said he was particularly enthusiastic about the discussion of coalitions. Indeed, the tagline with which Beidler named her presentation, “It’s not just us anymore,” was derived from a remark that Plummer had made shortly after joining the coalition. Expressing his relief at not feeling alone in his efforts, Plummer had said, “It’s not just FUDR anymore.”

In the face of the powerful multinational industrial interests that seem to be engaged in what can only be called a concerted attack on the water resources of the nation including the Delaware, those of us who seek to protect those resources can all too easily feel like ants who have wandered onto a battlefield. Coalitions such as CDRW and the Great Waters Coalition offer the possibility of getting into the fray in a more effective way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gas commission gets going

The Town of Delaware’s newly formed commission on natural gas drilling held its first meeting on Monday, October 9, sans Fred Stabbert, who did indeed resign before the meeting (see “Friday evening gossip…” below). Superintendent Ed Sykes, who was there for the first outing but will not necessarily be at future meetings, said he understood Stabbert’s feeling that, as publisher of a newspaper, Stabbert felt he needed to maintain independence. (In answer to a question from the public at the town board meeting at which the names had first been announced, Sykes had listed Stabbert as one of three commission members he considered pro-fracking.)

This first defection notwithstanding, my very preliminary impression is that Sykes may have actually succeeded in doing what he said he wanted to do: appoint a commission composed of members who, while they do start out with a position leaning either for or against fracking, are willing to be open minded about the issue. Commission members are Earl Kinney, Matt Hofer, Kara McElroy, Cindy Menges and Craig Schumacher . The commission itself will select a sixth member, but had not done so as of the end of Monday’s meeting. Menges will be chairman at least until the sixth member is selected.

Although it was hard to tell much from a first meeting at which the discussion was mainly about process rather than substance, I consider it unlikely that this group will follow its unfortunate predecessor in Cochecton by winding up in ideological gridlock. That’s partly because the way the members interacted suggests an ability to work together well, but also because, although the group has not yet even fully articulated what its mission is, as discussed so far it will focus on fact finding rather than policy prescriptions.

As Schumacher put it, "We are out to find the truth," and although that is perhaps an overly simplistic and even naive way to put it, the members' discussion of method suggested a hardheaded and practical approach that could potentially produce some valuable results. Particularly interesting was the insistence on sourcing all information in hard data and primary studies, combined with the admission that even apparently neutral sources like university studies could be influenced by who commissioned and financed those studies. Cindy Menges in particular took a lead on promoting this angle, and said she has worked extensively with statistics and knows how they can be skewed to support almost any point of view. The focus on sourcing, tempered by a healthy skepticism about the apparent neutrality of any source, strikes me as a good place to start.

Whether the town board will be influenced in any way by the group’s findings is, of course, quite another question.

The commission’s next meeting will be on Monday, October 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the town hall, and it will continue to meet weekly for the subsequent month, with meetings probably becoming less frequent as it gets in the groove. The public is welcome, but it is requested that all comments be submitted in writing. A dedicated email address will be established for that purpose.

The request is that all public comments back up any assertion with the source of the facts alleged, including if possible hyperlinks. For the first meeting, the commission is requesting input on what questions the group ought to be seeking the answers to.

My impression is that this group is indeed open to credible information, and it is important that anyone who knows of good primary sources regarding the environmental and economic impacts of hydrofracking provide the commission with links to those studies, or publication information allowing them to obtain hard copy.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Water quality under threat from DRBC proposal?

Bernie Handler of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has alerted me to a potential problem developing at the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), related to an idea that he had heard proposed at the last regular DRBC meeting on September 12.

The proposal is to eliminate redundancies in DRBC and the individual states' regulation of water discharges in the Delaware River basin. As confirmed by Kenneth Najjar, Manager, Planning & Information Technology Branch of the DRBC, the idea is to shift control over the permitting process to the states, while maintaining as a minimum the standards and criteria for approval currently imposed by the DRBC.  The goal is to consolidate the stream of paperwork in one process. 

Of course, in addition to  paperwork there are issues regarding monitoring and other field work, enforcement and the like. The DRBC would continue to be involved with some or all of these, with the details to be worked out. Najjar said, in fact, that there was a meeting taking place on Thursday to work out just some of those details.

Najjar says it's possible that further information about this issue will be shared at the December 5 DRBC meeting. 

As Najjar pointed out on Thursday evening after the Upper Delaware Council meeting, the states are under tremendous pressure to make all their operations more efficient, and in that context it is no surprise to hear that regulations in the river basin are being targeted, as they do, no doubt, tend to get particularly complex because of the overlay between the interstate organization and the individual states.

The problem is, however, that when it comes to environmental regulators, the term "streamlining" can all too often be code for "making smooth the road for industry at the expense of the environment." We can certainly hope that that is not the case in the current instance--but in that regard it would be useful if all those, both general public and organizations, interested in protecting water quality in the Delaware River Basin, keep their eyes on the process and make sure that any increases in efficiency are not purchased at the expense of effectiveness.

It is of particular concern to make sure that enforcement of DRBC standards does not fall victim to the vicissitudes of political change. It is of no use to have a robust system of standards that will serve to protect river water quality if implementation falls into the hands of a state whose regulatory mechanism is under the sway of industry interests. Tom Corbett's Pennsylvania, bluntly, is a matter of concern; not that there aren't still many highly competent, high-integrity regulators there, but the system as a whole under the Corbett administration has in many ways been gamed to serve industry interests over the past couple of years.(See http://www.riverreporter.com/editorial/16/2011/09/27/interdisciplinary-and-cross-media-huh.)

In any case, this is most certainly an issue we should keep our eyes on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gas drilling and the new feudalism

A friend recently called my attention to a post by "Kilgour Farms" over at Natural Gas Forums (http://www.naturalgasforums.com/index.php/topic,17939.msg232166.html#new) that draws a parallel between the Anti-Rent War that occurred in upper New York State in 1846, which “put to rest fuedelism (sic) in America,” and the struggle of some current landowners to lease their land for natural gas drilling.

I agree that feudalism has raised its ugly head again in the current debate over natural gas drilling in our area. But it is not the small landowners trying to preserve the rural residential character of their neighborhoods and the value of their land by keeping out heavy industrial activity who are behaving like feudal overlords. It is, duh, the large landowners who are trying to leverage the power of their acreage to impose land uses that serve their own private interests, regardless of the costs to small landowners and renters in the community.

During the Anti-Rent war, (http://www.oneonta.edu/library/dailylife/protest/index.html), tenant farmers were protesting a system in which large landowners leased  their land to farmers via perpetual leases rather than selling the land outright. The landowners retained the rights, among other things, to mineral, lumber, and water rights. Presumably it’s the “mineral rights” phrase that struck a chord with Kilgour Farms, with the modern-day analogy being government as the evil landowner, and large landowners like Kilgour being the downtrodden.

Only one problem: in our country, governments that derive their powers from a democratic system with one vote per man—especially the municipal governments that control most land use issues—are light years away from a single landowner who has nothing to consult but his own wishes. The body that, in some towns, is telling large landowners that they cannot host large-scale industrial activity is composed of their more numerous neighbors, each of whom stands to suffer more grievously from what the large landowners want to do than the landowners stand to gain.

After all, the pro-drilling landowners have held their land for years without even knowing the option of gas drilling existed. All they are giving up is a hitherto unknown opportunity. Small property owners stand to lose pretty much everything they already have—their health, a contaminated water supply, their homes and the majority of their wealth due to revoked mortgages by banks unwilling to take the risks associated with gas drilling.

Note, by the way, that these same municipalities have for years granted huge tax breaks to these large landowners in return for their good stewardship of the land for, e.g., forestry purposes—and the same small landowner neighbors have paid a disproportionately high share of taxes to make that possible.

All of this bears no relationship to the private individual landowners imposing their will on their small tenants that the Anti-Rent war protested.

On the contrary, when Noel van Swol of the pro-drilling Joint Landowners Coalition of NY stands up in the Town of Delaware meetings and prefaces his remarks with how many acres he represents in the town—and refuses to answer the question, “and how many people do you represent?”—he is reflecting precisely the view of the medieval overlord: my land is my might, and you must do deference to it. It’s not about people. It’s about land, and who owns the most. And my land makes my will law.

In his post, Kilgour quotes an Anti-Rent leader, Dr. Smith Boughton: "The purpose of our society is not for the few of maximum strength and ambition to lead lives of Byzantine glory, but for men to make the most of their common humanity.”

Indeed. Hence the importance of preserving our common assets, like clean water and air, essential to the wellbeing of all—even if it deprives a few of a special windfall that allows them to "lead lives of Byzantine glory."

Fear and loathing in Denver

I made an honest try to listen to the Presidential debate, I really did. But I only lasted about 20 minutes. It was like listening to two guys at a bus stop argue whether Obama or  Romney should become President. Neither one of these clowns seemed to know or understand any more about their economic ideas than I do, which is not a high bar.

And is there some reason Obama didn't jump all over Romney when he kept saying, "the share" paid by upper income people would not decline under his tax proposals? The trick here of course is the word "share," referring to the fact that he plans to cut rates across the board by 20% -- but boy howdy is that going to come to a different number of dollars for the one percent and for you and me. It's terrifying to think of my financial future as being in the hands of either one of these guys. As is all too often the case, I was left after my 20 minutes with the conclusion that if things are going to get better, it's all going to have to be by the bootstraps.