HOT DEBATE IN BOARD ROOM
Majority: No Gas, No New Jobs
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – The Otsego County Board of Representatives a few minutes ago approved sending a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to push for approval of the Constitution Pipeline.
The weighted vote was 3,672 ayes to 2,022 nays, with one absence.
Voting aye were Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla; Jim Powers, R-Butternuts; Kathy Clark, R-Otego; Meg Kennedy, R-Hartwick; Keith McCarty, R-East Springfield; Dan Wilbur, R-Burlington, Len Carson, R-Oneonta, and Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta.
Voting nay were Andrew Stammel, D-Town of Oneonta; Dave Bliss, R-Middlefield/Cooperstown; Andrew Marietta, Otsego/Cooperstown; Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, and Craig Gelbsman, R-Oneonta.
Peter Oberacker, R-Maryland, was absent.
The vote came near the end of today’s four-hour monthly meeting, after Stammel asked that Resolution 315 be removed from the “consent agenda,” which would have assured near-automatic passage.
Chairman Clark opened the floor, and the first rep to speak was Stuligross, a Democrat and usually a Stammel ally. “I was very opposed to fracking,” she began, then added: “There are no energy sources without problems. We have a shortage of energy (in southern Otsego County). I’m supporting this because people in Otsego County should have access to gas.”
Wilbur echoed her remarks, “there are no energy sources without problems – Otsego is in dire need of energy.”
Stammel stepped in, saying the draft letter contains “a lot of magical thinking.” He objected to linking a poor economy with the heroin scourge, and called the letter “a stunt.” “We’re urging the governor to ignore the rule of law,” he added.
He also noted that his Town of Oneonta constituency would oppose sending the letter, and that the town board passed a resolution a few months ago urging a statewide study on the health impacts of the Constitution Pipeline.
Powers then spoke, noting the idea came out of the county’s development of a strategic plan, which called for economic development and more jobs. Earlier in the meeting, representatives of Otsego Now, the county’s economic development agency, had outlined ambitious plans for the county’s renewal.
“If we’re not willing to ask for natural gas, none of it’s going to happen,” said Powers.
Kennedy, a freshman Republican, spoke: Natural gas “is an opportunity I’m not willing to bypass.”
Marietta, a freshman Democrat, then called sending the letter “reactionary rather than strategic. I don’t think this gets us to the end goal.”
Gelbsman, who in the end voted against the resolution, recounted that gas is cut off from major Oneonta institutions – SUNY Oneonta, Hartwick College and Fox Hospital among them – during cold snaps because of a lack of supply.
“There is an effect already,” he said of the Constitution being rejected by the state DEC. Even Gelbsman’s business – First Choice Cleaners, which employs 27 people – is on “the list,” he said. “I looked at solar; it’s not viable for us right now. We need gas.”
Gelbsman mentioned the future Amphenol – while located in Sidney, 20 miles southwest of Oneonta, it’s been a major employer of Oneontans for decades – is threatened by lack of gas. “We need natural gas,” he said. “We definitely need that pipeline.”
Frazier, who drafted the letter with Powers, represents Unadilla, which is one town east from Sidney and Amphenol. “The conversation (about energy) has always been either/or,” he said. “I don’t think it should be. Natural gas today is cheap, affordable – that should be part of our plan.”
“Amphenol has a huge payroll” – 700 employees – “we benefit from Amphenol,” he said, noting a piece in the New York Times last week reporting there are 252,000 manufacturers in the U.S., of which only 3,700 employ more than 500 people. “One of those is Amphenol,” he said.
Already, he suggested, the company is involved in internal conversations about other plants it owns taking on part of the Sidney plant’s work because they can do it more cheaply.
Frazier’s co-sponsor, Powers, then spoke in support of their letter: “I can guarantee you: Always with poverty, you have drug abuse. Good jobs are one way to offset the ills of poverty.”
Before calling the question, Chairman Clark spoke. “We have 50 miles of I-88 that’s undeveloped,” she said. “…We have a governor making a promise to them (Amphenol) and not following through.” Will future manufacturers looking to locate in Otsego County believe the state’s promises, she asked.
Representatives Carson, McCarty, Koutnik and Bliss did not express their views.