We’ve been watching the small community advocacy group Schoharie Valley Watch for the four and a half years it has been in existence, and liking what we’ve seen. Every community should be lucky enough to have a well-informed, committed group like this to provide information on environmental and land-use issues, to educate citizens about their rights and hold politicians accountable. But Schoharie County, a place that has many low-income residents without access to the Internet, particularly needs it.
The group was started in May 2006 by two local residents, Robert Nied and Don Airey, who were against a proposal for wind turbines, especially concerned about its large scale and lack of transparency in the process. Now they are trying to stop energy companies from using a controversial method called horizontal hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale that underlies this part of the Catskills.
What makes Nied and Airey interesting, and effective, is that their positions aren’t ideological, but based on research. They aren’t fanatics. And to prove it, they are willing to talk to and work with even those who disagree with them, like landowners who want to lease their land for drilling. If there is to be drilling, they want landowners to be informed and not taken advantage of financially, or have their property ruined or water contaminated.
While there was some suspicion and opposition to Nied and Airey at the beginning, Schoharie Valley residents have come to trust and respect them. They estimate that eight to 10 people come to them for help each week, and they’ve even been asked by government officials to share their ideas and information and to talk about open meetings and such.
Nied and Airey are generous with their time, donating 30 to 50 hours a week to Schoharie Valley Watch, in addition to their regular jobs. They are passionate, but responsible and reasonable people who seem motivated only by a concern for their community.
Their latest goal is to raise money to build a center that will serve as a home for Schoharie Valley Watch, with Internet-accessible computers so people can do research themselves, and volunteers to educate, provide paralegal services and otherwise empower citizens. We wish them luck.