Gas drilling within the town of Ulysses is officially banned, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Ulysses Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday, August 10, to amend its current zoning laws, effectively banning all natural gas and petroleum related activities, including exploration, extraction and storage.
The final vote was met with a standing ovation and raucous cheers from a Town Hall crowd that came dangerously close to exceeding maximum room occupancy of 60.
The methods of gas drilling, Councilwoman Liz Thomas said, “aren’t safe enough, and the impacts on the community are just too high. … Time to walk the walk for a better future.”
Town Supervisor Roxanne Marino read some 10-minutes’ worth of the council’s 12-page resolution amending the zoning law. The resolution included reasons as to why the amendment is in compliance with the town comprehensive plan as well as general concerns associated with gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – involves injection chemically treated water into the ground to break up shale formations that block natural gas wells.
Ulysses becomes the third town in Tompkins County to amend its respective zoning laws to shut oil and gas companies out. The Town of Ithaca officially banned gas drilling within its limits last month, and, most recently, Dryden passed a drilling ban on August 2.
Following the vote, Marino reiterated Thomas’s sentiment, calling the board’s two-year effort to amend the zoning laws a necessary move in halting an “unacceptable land-use activity for our town.”
Wednesday evening’s vote came after a public hearing held in late June. Some 150 residents attended the hearing, with 37 giving their official comments approving the proposed ban. No one opposed to the ban spoke publicly. The town also received about 30 written comments, according to Thomas. Only two opposed the amendment – a resident and a representative of a gas company, she said.
Following the vote, joyful residents gathered outside of Town Hall as the Council moved on to other business.
Former Ulysses Planning Board member Krys Cail had a hand in drawing up the town’s first comprehensive plan in the early ‘90s. She was all smiles Wednesday night.
“This is all consistent with everything we’re trying to accomplish in our land use planning,” she said.
Robert Oswald of the Concerned Citizens of Ulysses, a group that helped collect some 1,000 signatures supporting a fracking ban, said he felt “fantastic”.
“We had to do it,” he said of the ban. “I’m hoping it protects our town, other towns.”
Back to Democracy, another area “grassroots” group against fracking, was represented Wednesday night. Member Jan Quarles said the ban spawned out of a movement from the ground up.
“Tonight was the joyous culmination of a little over a year of work,” Quarles said.
“I think we got back to democracy,” Oswald said, chuckling.
There are still concerns, though. First, and perhaps most importantly, is whether municipal zoning law changes will stand up in court if a landowner opts to file suit.
Also, Ulysses is just one municipality out of many in Tompkins County, so where does the grassroots movement go next?
Councilwoman Lucia Tyler said the Ulysses ban should mark a beginning, not an end.
“We are not on an island,” Tyler said. “There needs to be a call for action for people who understand the issue… to correct misinformation about gas drilling.”
She urged Ulysses residents to “tell our neighbors about this. Everybody can be an educator.”
Ulysses resident Fran Littin owns Sheldrake Point Winery on Cayuga Lake. She said she’s happy with the gas ban in Ulysses but hopes other municipalities take action too.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said.