Guilderland lends support in home rule battle

Coming court battle could decide whether localities can keep out fracking

— Almost one year ago to the day after Guilderland banned natural gas drilling within its borders, the Town Board joined a court brief in support of its legislative power to enact such a law.

The Guilderland Town Board on Tuesday, July 2, approved joining an amici curiae, or friends of the court, brief supporting the towns of Dryden and Middlefield in enacting local laws banning natural gas drilling within the towns. These bans utilize Municipal Home Rule and zoning laws. Corporations challenging these bans on what is commonly known as hydraulic fracturing have claimed home rule powers do not allow towns to control natural gas drilling as a land use.

Guilderland unanimously passed its ban on July 3, 2012, and it denies any person, firm or corporation from drilling a natural gas well within the town. The local law also banned the exploration, transfer, storage, treatment or disposal of natural gas.

“The significance of the case is broader, or can be broader, than just dealing with hydrofracking,” Town Supervisor Ken Runion said. “There is always a question whether the state has preempted localities from enacting certain legislation. The more clarification there is on those issues the better it is for municipalities moving forward.”

More than 50 municipalities statewide have already signed the court brief. Joining the brief will not cost the town any legal expenses, since the Town of Ulysses is paying those costs, or lead Guilderland to becoming a party to an appeal.

Ulysses Town Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas reached out to Guilderland because Norse Energy Corporation USA is seeking permission to appeal the case. The Court of Appeals has discretion on whether it will hear the case.

Thomas in her letter to the town said the brief will “reiterate the powerful statement to the Court of Appeals, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the State Legislature about the importance of protecting municipal home rule and each municipality’s right to decide which land uses are appropriate for its residents.”

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