Binghamton Landowners vs. Local Law No. 6

Jun 6, 2012

As the debate over the future of hydraulic fracturing rages on, a group of upstate New York landowners has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn "Local Law Number Six," a temporary ban on natural-gas drilling in the city of Binghamton. Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

Five property owners filed suit last week in state Supreme Court in Broome County, charging that  Binghamton's Mayor and city council violated state law when the municipality passed a two-year ban on drilling back in December,  without first seeking approval from the county's planning department.

Riverkeeper Watershed Program Director Kate Hudson says the fact that the ban is being challenged in court is demonstrates how desperate the gas industry is getting in the face of rising opposition to hydrofracking. 

The Broome County suit argues that the ban will discourage drilling companies and thus restrict economic development in Binghamton's gas-rich suburbs.

Among the plaintiffs: two individual landowners, a pair of landowner groups and the Arena Hotel Corporation, which owns a Holiday Inn in the City.

Plaintiff's attorney Kenneth Kamlet, who describes himself as "an environmental and land use lawyer," says the landowners hold "dozens, if not hundreds of acres" of land in the Binghamton area, and hope to profit from gas leases if the state approves fracking.  

Kamlet tells WAMC that the Binghamton case is different from two others where judges upheld permanent gas-drilling bans,  because, while it alleges procedural errors, it does not argue that banning drilling is illegal.

The Dryden and Middlefield cases are under appeal - both towns argue that banning drilling falls within their rights to regulate the use of local land.  Kamlet says a return date has been set for the 29th of June.

Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan's office refused to comment because of the ongoing litigation, but emailed a copy of a document sent to the landowners' legal team:   The paper explains that the purpose of Local Law Number Six includes protecting and preserving the local public water supply, including protecting the local environment against spills having the potential to contaminate the local water supply. The letter points out that Binghamton sits atop a federally designated "Sole Source Aquifer" and the EPA has determined that contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health.