O’Mara, Palmesano discuss issues in Dundee

John Christensen
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Sen. Tom O’Mara met with residents at a town hall meeting in Dundee on Oct. 4.

At the Oct. 4 Town Hall meeting in Dundee, State Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano fielded questions and concerns from about 20 members of the public, but one issue dominated the meeting: hydrofracking.

O’Mara predicted the topic’s importance in the public perception with his opening remarks, which also included his praise of Gov. Cuomo and the good working relationship that has developed with him across party lines. “We’re trying to put our house in order and make New York a friendly state for business,” O’Mara asserted.

Palmesano stressed the difficulty of the budget year and the good work done to close budget gaps and decrease future deficits. Regarding the economic atmosphere, he said that the loss of the Empire Zone program had hurt business growth.

Starkey resident Tom Gibbs thanked the pair for “having the gumption” to ask the people their opinions and concerns. Not wanting to dominate the floor, Gibbs handed O’Mara a list of 20 questions, concerns and suggestions for them to consider and respond to. Gibbs said he made the list out of his concern that “our country is going down the tubes,” to which O’Mara answered, “We have to restore confidence in government.” Most of the public nodded in agreement.

Several people present brought up the issue of the Department of Environmental Conservation permitting hydrofracking waste water to be spread on roads as de-icing brine and dust control in the Keuka and Canandaigua Lake watersheds in Steuben County. A complete loss of confidence in the DEC’s commitment to protecting the Finger Lakes was expressed by one man, with the concurrence of several more. This same man asked why New York was one of only three states that charges the oil and gas companies nothing for the extraction of those resources.

A woman asked why there were no government officials at the recent meeting in Watkins Glen to discuss liquid propane and butane gas storage in salt caverns around Seneca Lake. She claimed that the local environmental protection groups have gathered 4,000 signatures and been endorsed by 125 local businesses that believe the truck and train traffic would be destructive to the tourism industry.

The potential for physical dangers connected to the storage of millions of cubic feet of flammable substances were of concern to many in the crowd. The environmental risks in a proposed 14 acre brine pond above the western shore of Seneca Lake was also predicted to threaten disaster. O’Mara responded by saying he had not seen the signatures, but would like to.

When asked whether he was in favor of home rule and allowing counties and towns to decide these issues by referendum, O’Mara answered, “I’m in favor of protecting individual property owners rights.”

The rising costs for the Dundee Ambulance Corps was also of concern to the public. Being formally linked to the Dundee Fire Department means that they cannot charge fees as independent companies and corps do.

O’Mara asked, “Don’t you have a property tax levy?” The two percent property tax cap makes future funding even more insecure.

Palmesano answered that he is pushing legislation to help with personnel retention in volunteer fire departments. He also wants to freeze Medicaid growth for the counties and have the state take over any increases directly. He also spoke of the skyrocketing costs of the pension system and insurance. He added one of his most important efforts in Albany is working for mandate relief for counties, towns, and villages.