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Partnership to partner with area groups to get ready for drilling

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 18, 2010 — The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development has entered into an agreement with its counterparts in two neighboring counties to create an information “clearinghouse” on natural gas drilling.
At least one drilling opponent, however, has already questioned whether it’s a move to counter environmental groups and gain more traction for the drilling industry.
Partnership officials have indicated it’s both.
“Anything positive about it [drilling] doesn’t get any credible look-see,” said Partnership President Tim McCausland. “We want all the questions to be answered, too ... but we don’t want hysteria and personal attacks to be part of it.”
Citing massive economic benefits in Pennsylvania, McCausland and Board Chairman Josh Sommers told the Industrial Development Agency’s (IDA’s) board last week that more accurate information is needed, inferring that some of the groups fighting drilling are not presenting all the facts.
Indeed, the resolution approved by the Partnership’s board on June 1 hints at such:
“Whereas, the general population throughout this region of New York State and Pennsylvania have raised reasonable concerns regarding pollution, cumulative impacts and safety about natural gas exploration; and
“Whereas, there exists a need to disseminate accurate information about the natural gas industry that is based on sound research; and
“Whereas, there is a need to have a clearinghouse that can provide research-based information in order for the residents to make sound business and environmental decisions...”
With only one abstention out of more than 20 votes, McCausland said the resolution passed overwhelmingly, committing the Partnership to a “loose coalition” with economic development agencies in Delaware County, NY and Wayne County, PA, where drilling is imminent.
The other two agencies, he said, had already passed the same resolution.
“We just want to be ready with the best information we can,” he explained. “If we don’t have readiness, we’ll be in a bad position.”
McCausland pointed out that a study identified up to 150 new job types being created from drilling, leading to a need to offer training for locals interested in such jobs.
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy member Bruce Ferguson agrees that readiness is warranted, but he told Sommers in a series of e-mail exchanges that the Partnership seems to be pushing drilling, wondering who within the Partnership stands to gain from it.
“You twice refer to drilling as a ‘game changer,’ which is precisely what many of us fear,” Ferguson wrote. “A great many reputable scientists, economists and public health professionals are deeply concerned that inherently dangerous hydraulic fracturing can compromise public health, contaminate our air and water, destroy property values, and devastate other sectors of the economy.”
Ferguson intimated the Partnership’s resolution and corresponding educational campaign could heighten the divisiveness often found in drilling debates these days.
“Am I to presume that some of my tax dollars will be used to fund this campaign?” he wondered.
Sommers replied that he sees no problem with Partnership members benefitting from economic development in the county, gas drilling included. A code of ethics, he added, requires disclosures of conflicts of interest.
“If a new business comes to our area as a result of our efforts and a member, including a board member, profits from a relationship with that new business, then we have fulfilled our mission,” Sommers wrote to Ferguson. “That is what we are here to do. By encouraging new business, creating jobs and increasing tax revenues, we help businesses profit.”
McCausland said the Partnership sometimes undertakes initiatives that may be controversial – the Yukiguni mushroom factory in Wurtsboro is a recent example – but he promised that it won’t distribute falsehoods.
“Not everybody is for it – we understand that,” he said, adding that he’s OK with a deliberative regulatory process. “... There’s work to be done, and if it takes time, it takes time.”
He lamented that Catskill Citizens has targeted the Partnership “as the enemy and are acting accordingly.”
But he said the Partnership shares Catskill Citizens’ desire for ensuring the environment’s safety – and as for tax dollars, the Partnership’s $200,000 budget only gets about $75,000 from the IDA and some monies from the county, since it’s considered an independent contract vendor.
“The rest is membership dollars,” he explained.

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