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15 Upstate NY Towns Consider Seceding To PA

Angered over the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, some towns in New York's Southern Tier have raised the idea of seceding to Pennsylvania. The local municipalities' "wishful thinking" has attracted national attention.

Beneath New York's economically distressed Southern Tier: the same gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation that has allowed Pennsylvania and other states to cash in on the fracking boom. In December, after years "on hold," the Cuomo administration finally addressed hydraulic fracturing, banning it based on potential health risks and "overstated" economic benefits.

Local officials began brainstorming about leaving New York in a favor of becoming part of Pennsylvania, where the fracking industry has a strong foothold.

The Wall Street Journal, attributing the turn of events to Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to ban fracking,  likened the towns' plight to that of  "the Cold War’s East Berlin—with economic life booming on one side of the divide, while an anti-economic ideology stifles it on the other." 

Conklin Town Supervisor Jim Finch has been a strong voice among the chorus of secessionists of the Southern Tier:  "People from Pennsylvania used to drive up here in Broome County to go to work and now people from here are going down there to work on the gasfields. What they have now, Cabot Oil they built a new hospital in Montrose, which they didn't have before, it was an older style hospital. They built new senior housing in New Melford, and they give back a lot to the community, but also, the people who live there  all have toys in their driveway. New four-wheelers, snowmobiles, there's a great area for that. New vehicles in their driveways, their houses are all sided, new roofs, and the economy is booming. The restaurants are booming, all the stores are booming over in Montrose, right here we have nothing. And our sales tax revenue in Broome County is down because the people of Pennsylvania, the gas people, used to buy their supplies here because it's close, but, we're down. And the best thing we have in our area is - it's under the ground - it's natural resources, and we're being deprived of our mineral rights."

WAMC's Political Observer Dr. Alan Chartock says the talk is far-fetched.   "There are landowners who are gonna lose out because of this ban and they look enviously over at Pennsylvania, some of whom, sell their land and go to Florida and go to other places. But how about all the people who are left there, who are worried about contaminated drinking water and everything else that led both the health commissioner and the environmental commissioner in New York State who say 'eh-eh' those people in P Pennsylvania wanna do it, that's their lookout. But believe me Pennsylvania has been studied to death, and there are people who will take both sides and tell you what the results have been. But why take a chance on your drinking water? That, it seems to me, is the major issue here. They can talk secession all they want, but it ain't gonna happen."

Conklin agrees secession is easier said than done.    "I don't actually think we can do it. Because it's gotta be approved by the New York Assembly, the Pennsylvania Assembly and the federal government, under the U.S. Constitution it's there that one can't secede from another."

Members of the Upstate New York Towns Association hope the publicity generated by the secession idea will result in "something good" eventually happening for a struggling part of the state, which also missed out on a potential casino during the first round of siting choices the same day as the fracking ban came down. Now, bidding is reopened.

Conklin says the towns are exploring "other options.” He did not elaborate. Governor Cuomo's office did not return a call for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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