Montgomery County

Glen residents speak out against Town Board’s ‘lack of transparency’ during public hearing on revocation of local laws

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GLEN — Residents spoke out against the Town Board’s “lack of transparency” during a public hearing on the proposed revocation of local laws regulating mobile homes and solid waste sites in town, saying no explanation for the possible action was provided or previously discussed in a public session. Attendees further called out the action proposed by two resolutions as improper under state law which requires passage of a local law to amend or otherwise alter existing laws.

Resident Ilene Wagner during Monday’s hearing said she was surprised when she saw the notice of the public hearing posted on the door to Town Hall.

“I was not aware the Town Board was considering rescinding these laws,” Wagner said.

Wagner subsequently looked on the town website and searched for prior board discussion surrounding the revocation in past meeting minutes, but found the minutes for the September meeting had not yet been posted. The public hearing notice and the agenda for Monday’s meeting were similarly absent from the town website.

“I’m not sure how we are expected to comment intelligently on a topic about which we know nothing. What is the reason for it,” Wagner said.

Wagner, who has a professional background in planning, noted that she served on the committee that drafted the 1990 local law regulating mobile homes in the town and prohibiting the establishment of mobile home parks.

Although she acknowledged the law could likely use some revision or be incorporated into zoning regulations, Wagner said she had not heard any reasoning from the board as to why it should be revoked.

Similarly, Wagner was critical of the full revocation proposed for town laws regulating solid waste facilities, noting the legislation had been adopted by other towns and withstood past court challenges from companies seeking to overturn the rules to establish non-compliant dump sites.

The local law’s stated intent is to protect town residents from the “undesirable” effects of solid waste disposal operations, including litter, odors, noise, traffic, deterioration in property values and “threats to public health or the environment by contamination of air, surface water or groundwaters.” The law prohibits the establishment and operation of solid waste management facilities in the town.

“From what I can see, it’s been very effective. I don’t know why it needs to be rescinded and again there needs to be open government, transparency as to why these decisions are being made,” Wagner said.

Supervisor John Thomas interjected that the public hearing had been advertised through a legal notice published in The Recorder as required by law. Thomas did not address Wagner’s other concerns.

The notice published on Sept. 23 states only that the board will collect comments on the “possible” revocation of the local laws. No information regarding the content of the laws or the reasoning behind their proposed repeal is provided. State law does not require those details be published in legal notices advertising public hearings.

However, Susan Whiteman and Rosalie Farina pointed out the resolutions proposing the revocation of the local laws failed to meet the requirements of State Municipal Home Rule Law under which an existing local law can only be amended or otherwise altered through a new local law. State Environmental Quality Review was similarly not performed to review the possible impacts of revoking the law.

State law requires legislative bodies to formally introduce drafted local laws at a public meeting or through another method approved under the rules and procedure of the municipality that would involve the finished document being supplied directly to each board member. The draft must be in hand at least seven days before a required public hearing on the legislation is scheduled and the law may subsequently be acted on.

“In order to have a public hearing, we should be able to see what that local law is that is going [to be] revoked and we haven’t seen that,” Farina said. “What process are you using? Was it really discussed?”

Councilpman Ronald Crewell said that he was unaware of the proposed resolutions that had not previously been discussed until he received the board packet. He went on to question the interest in potentially revoking laws that had protected the town from controversial waste disposal projects previously proposed in the town.

“As a matter of fact, John, that law was used against you and this Town Board,” Crewell said. “That law is very effective for the people of this town. That law in my opinion would never be revoked.”

Crewell referred to circumstances surrounding the sewage sludge processing plant proposed by Lystek, a Canadian-based company specializing in waste treatment technology, in the Glen Canal View Business Park in late 2017. The proposal received significant backlash from residents concerned about the environmental impact of the facility.

A grassroots group, Citizens Against Local Landfills, filed a lawsuit against the town alleging the zoning law changes that would have allowed the project did not follow the State Environmental Quality Review process. Lystek eventually pulled the plug on the proposal after learning the town’s solid waste law would have prohibited the project.

Residents Steve Helmin and Bonnie Couture were similarly concerned about the sudden proposal to revoke the local laws that were put forward without any explanation by a board with three outgoing officials sitting on it.

“These are laws that have existed for a generation or longer,” Helmin said. “Why then when the outgoing board members have only three regular board meetings left is there such a rush to clean up the code?”

The terms of Thomas, Councilman Larry Coddington and Councilman Thomas Murray, Jr. each expire this year. None of the three are seeking re-election. Current Planning Board Chairman Thomas Reilly is running unopposed for town supervisor. Farina and Whiteman, who also currently serve on the Planning Board, are running unopposed for the two open seats on the Town Board.

“These laws were passed for a reason. Thoughtful discussion and significant time were put into the crafting and passage of these measures,” Helmin said. “Pursuing these changes now and providing no competent rationale in the text of the resolution raises both questions and eyebrows. Why are we doing it? I certainly don’t know.”

“I for one demand that we have some open government here,” Couture said. “A proposal tells you what is going on, so people like us can understand. That is not done here.”

Reilly, who was in attendance, similarly expressed concern about the possible implications of the local laws being rescinded.

“I do have concerns with the revocation of the solid waste law. Without knowing are you going to amend the current law and replace it with something different? Are you going to update it or are just looking to remove it and revoke all of it,” Reilly said. “I would like to have an answer to that.”

Other residents questioned whether the removal of the laws would leave the town vulnerable to the establishment of waste sites for the disposal of solar panels in the face of the 250 megawatt Mill Point Solar Project proposed by ConnectGen.

The large-scale solar project will be subject to the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act with final determination to be made by the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting. The company plans to submit its application to the state during the fourth quarter of the year.

Solar developers are required to submit decommissioning plans for proposed projects during the state review process outlining how components will be recycled at the end of their useful life and the land returned to its previous state to the extent possible. Companies are typically required to obtain surety bonds to cover the cost of decommissioning to be held by the community where the project is installed to prevent possible abandonment.

Following the public outcry during the hearing, Thomas motioned to table action on the proposed resolutions related to the local laws, indicating the action was intended to “clean up” the town’s outdated laws and related language.

“I thought I was fulfilling a commitment I made four years ago to clean this thing up,” Thomas said, holding up a large bound volume containing the town code. “This does need some cleaning up.”

Coddington indicated his unwillingness to act on any local laws or zoning amendments for the remainder of his term, saying those decisions should be made by the incoming town officials.

“Let them take them up after the first of the year,” Coddington said.

The resolutions to revoke the local laws relating to mobile homes and solid waste were ultimately tabled by the board by votes of 4-0. Murray was absent from the meeting.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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