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Editorial Argues That The Town Board Is Not The Tyrant

September 29, 2016

We have attempted to have this published in multiple news outlets; unfortunately the Orleans Hub and The Batavia Daily both decided not to print because it exceeded their word count. One news outlet felt that readers would be unlikely to read such a long letter. We hope that is not true.

In fact, we believe it is important to publish, and that these words bear repeating. We respectfully ask you to share it with as many people as you can.

To our neighbors in Shelby and Beyond:

My husband and I are property owners in Shelby NY. We are writing to express both gratitude and dismay regarding recent developments involving the possible quarry near the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Our sincere gratitude is to our Town Board, and our dismay is in regards to the recent attacks they have endured.

We are grateful first in terms of how our Board Members have dealt with the issue over the last decade: with seriousness, with dedication, with patience, and perhaps most of all, with objectivity. For a very long time, we did not know where they stood on the issue. Many we spoke with one on one told us quite frankly it didn't matter how they felt personally. They listened carefully to our arguments, but all members expressed the same sentiment: their opinions were secondary. Their job was to act on their constituents' behalf.

Years later, after surveys and hearings, and after countless one on one conversations, and after perhaps even the most cursory view of the letters people wrote in to the state, most of whom were vehemently opposed to the quarry (275 people shared comments during the public comment period) The Shelby Board justly concluded that the majority of us who live here are adamantly opposed to an industry being built that closely to the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. A clear consensus emerged.

And that is why, when the DEC judge recently ruled that Frontier Stone could continue with its permit-seeking process, the Town Board knew they had to better protect our collective interests.

They had to set up a secondary shield of defense to protect the land, air, soil, water, and way of life of their constituents-and even those beyond, such as people who live near the Refuge in Genesee County, people who regularly travel Route 63, and people who pay taxes in Orleans County.

Right now, the land in question on Fletcher Chapel Road is designated as Agricultural and Residential. Frontier wants to change that to Industrial. They'll argue that the State has-kind of, probably sort of, given them the go ahead. (The DEC itself has not technically responded as of yet).

The town board therefore proposed "Local Law #2, the Wildlife Protection Overlay District." Its goal is simple: to be another, and stronger layer of defense from New York State or some corporation from far away having the power to decide what we ourselves decide. Since when does Albany or the federal government decide how we zone a particular segment of our land? Do our local elections mean anything, or don't they?

If and when we DO decide to modify or abridge how a piece of land is coded, it's when our own Town Board decides the adjustment is reasonable and perhaps even beneficial to the region. How do they know better than New York State or Washington, DEC? Simple. They live here. And we elected them for exactly this purpose: To protect us from agencies or companies that would threaten the land we share, particularly people from far away making decisions that impact those of us who actually live here.

One person wrote in to the Hub and said "Who are these tyrants to tell us what we can and can't do on our own property?!" Uh...they're our neighbors, buddy. The ones we elected. Our neighbors who give up a ton of their own time and their families' time because they happen to love it here, and who happen to enact laws they believe are in our best interest.

Also a sign of a no-tyrants-here move: The Shelby Town Board did not PASS Local Law #2, the Wildlife Overlay District. They wrote it...and then presented it to us as a solution to a problem confronting us. It's a first draft. They welcome input. And, they gave us until October 1 to let them know what we think.

So what is this Overlay District about? After studying it comprehensively, its intent is clearly this: to protect the people that live here, and especially those in close proximity to the Wildlife Refuge, from any industry that would cause colossal damage.

This is not just about a quarry. It is about any industry that, by its nature, would harm all of us: both the Refuge and Shelby itself-our air, our water, our creek, our wells, our ponds, our roads, our property value individually and as a community; and, yes, our way of life.

The word "way of life" does not mean our ability to sit on a deck behind the house and watch the birds and squirrels and say, Man I'm glad I live in the country. (Though that's part of it...). "Way of life" also applies to things like how much traffic, noise, and dust we regularly endure. When people moved here, they looked around and said, Yep, this is the kind of life I'm signing up for. Some people bought homes. Others built them. Others rent. Many farm. We all count, no matter how many acres to our name.

None of us signed up for a way of life that meant we could expect one thousand dump trucks a week on one road. (And it hardly matters whether it's my road or not-incidentally, it is not. Two to three hundred rock-filled dump trucks a day will be felt miles away in both directions.) None of us signed up for the absolutely foreseeable congestion and certain accidents that will happen at the juncture of Route 63 and Fletcher Chapel Road. If you aren't familiar with where exactly that is…you know that blind hill just out of Shelby and prior to the Refuge? That's Fletcher Chapel. Great idea, huh, 250 dump trucks making a left hand turn at that juncture all day long, all week long! (People who daily travel Route 63-this is not just Shelby's issue. This will impact your way of life, too.)

None of us signed up for the constant sound of blasting or the resulting dust. No one around here spent money to dig a beautiful pond that an Industry down the road has the power to suck dry-and refill, and suck dry, and refill-every single spring, summer, and fall. People who use their very own well water-that was absolutely a way of life they signed up to enjoy, some of whom have enjoyed it for decades and even centuries-they didn't sign up for it to turn to Sulphur water or for it to disappear altogether.

But Local Law #2 is not just about protecting our way of life. The Overlay District's intent is also to protect us economically. Two, maybe three, low-paying local jobs at the Frontier Stone Quarry and a lot of dump trucks driven by guys from somewhere else will not compensate Shelby or Orleans County from the exhaustive and certain cost of constant road repairs we'll suffer. Fletcher Chapel Road will certainly be desecrated, particularly its corners. Shelby's footing that bill. Orleans County, don't feel left out: there will also be the yearly, necessary road repair of Route 63, incurred from the constant excess traffic, from the weight load of those rock-bearing dump trucks, and from the anticipated quarry-induced water damage to the road. Lucky for us, there'll be this great big quarry nearby! Maybe we can buy all the necessary road materials from Frontier! Imagine your road supplies just a couple miles from your yearly work site! Kind of ironic if you think about it.

And finally, Local Law #2 is about protecting the wildlife and the wetland itself of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

What's at stake?

We're talking about an enterprise whose daily objective is to blast into rock all day long and then transport the rock they blast out. They will use heavy machinery to dig a tremendous hole; by digging that huge hole, they will regularly drain the Refuge itself; but not to worry-daily, they'll put it right back. Also, the land in question where the hole will be? Happens to be rich in Sulphur and salt (that's why they call the road next to it "sour springs road"-because the water from the wells in that part of town smell like Sulphur). In short: blast, drain wetlands, rinse with Sulphur, salt, minerals, blasting chemicals, and anything residual heavy machinery (diesel and oil, for instance) then put the water back into the wetland. Upward of 500,000 gallons of it. Daily. And somehow the birds will be fine? The turtles? The deer? The eaglets?

They want us to think there's nothing to worry about because this is what wetlands do, all by themselves. They're the perfect filter-they naturally clean stuff up constantly! Even really bad stuff. Except… not when it comes to large-scale clean ups. Flushing and rinsing water over and over through a wetland is actually bad for everything in the wetland, from the turtles to the birds to the deer. And that's bad for us.

Ask the Everglades in Florida-how's that "Hey! Let's Use the Everglades to Filter Our Phosphates and Waste" thing working out for you? How's the air and water quality down there? How's that fish kill on the coast working out? How's the toxic algae bloom that keeps getting bigger and lasting longer, right into tourist season, each year? Or the fish kills that come with it? How's the flooding?

Because wetlands do more than filter. They are more than home to microorganisms, eggs, birds, animals, and endangered species. They also naturally control flooding. They are huge under and above ground sponges. They naturally control the ebb and flow of water, from rain to snow. Have you ever used a sponge in your sink for too long? First of all, it stinks. Like, Get that thing out of my house bad. Second of all, if you use it too long to do too many dirty jobs with the same sponge, it literally won't hold much water. It'll be a fall-apart soppy mess.

Giant, nature-made sponges-wetlands-are no different, and Frontier Stone knows it. At some point with all that 500,000 gallons of sucking and dumping water, the sponge is going to quit. And the only other place for the water to go is over the road and all over every property in the vicinity. Frontier knows this. They even have a plan ready to deal with the overflow when it occurs. From their website, they say: "In conjunction with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service ( USFWS), Frontier Stone has agreed to establish an Alternative Mine Dewatering Discharge Location identified as "drainage basin 2" in a letter to the DEC dated November 11, 2015. The alternative discharge location will assist the USFWS in their wetland management efforts at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (INWR). Frontier Stone will be able to redirect water upon written request of the USFWS "for a full period specified by the USFWS request." Use of the discharge location shall "be the minimum seasonally necessary to achieve proper mine dewatering, but at no time exceed a rate of 554,264 gallons per day." http://www.frontierstonewny.com/water

Wait, what? Where's mystery "drainage basin 2" going to be-whose road? Which river? Whose property gets to be the lucky recipient of all that redirected water? I have to find an old letter somewhere to find out? And wait, they get to do this for pretty much as long as they want?

Hang on-someone might SIGN OFF ON THIS?

Water that needs to be "redirected" actually has another word for it: it's called flood control.

So let's picture the reality that's been so craftily hidden right before us: floodwaters in the Swamps are going to be a Regular Occurrence in the near future, and we're supposed to sit back and just eat our popcorn while the movie unfolds.

Boy, when that flooding happens, I sure hope it's not on a Saturday. Look at that quote from Frontier again: people at the Refuge have to give Frontier a WRITTEN Request to deal with the flooding...that Frontier themselves caused...before they will deal with it. And they will deal with it by...wait for it...Re-directing it. (Right, to Mystery drainage basin 2, wherever that is!)

Huh, when all that expected and planned for flooding happens, I sure hope Route 63 isn't closed too long! THAT won't impact anyone economically, right?

I hope all that damage from the water doesn't make road construction a given every single year in the swamps, right on a road a lot of people travelling to and from Medina travel daily!

Oh right plus the birds and such! I sure hope THEY'VE written up some alternate plans for all those eggs and nests and kits and newborn babies and habitats that'll have to be replaced. Regularly.

This sounds like a dumb question but seriously: Aren't wetlands supposed to be, uh, standing water? Not continuous toilets that regularly wipe out all the life that relies upon on those still waters to be still?

So again...Who is going to suffer from this quarry in terms of quality of life and economic burden and devastating damage to our water table and the nearby wetland? Not just a couple families who live across the road from the quarry. All of us.

We had hoped that New York State would protect such varied and valuable interests of our community. The DEC judge who just gave Frontier Stone permission to carry on certainly didn't.

It is clear to us that Shelby Town Board proposed a Law (Law #2 Wildlife Protection Overlay District) for one reason: if the state doesn't have the will to stand up to outside interests and deep pockets, then fine. We'll take care of ourselves.

The town is not opposed to all industry or any structure at all. They are certainly not opposed to existing businesses and ventures like Wounded Warriors on Salt Works Road.

It meant, We (the town) will not change a land designated "agriculture" to "industrial" just because someone demands it. It is not as an attack against any person or specifically against a quarry. Local Law #2 targets any kind of industry that would by their very nature turn our quiet rural town into an industrial wasteland.

We do not trust Andrew Cuomo to protect Shelby and Medina's interests. We definitely do not trust Frontier Stone. Most, we do not trust the behemoth sniffing greedily at the outskirts of our town, LefargeHolcim of Switzerland. Who, you ask? Complicated answer. Right now, Dave Mahar owns Frontier Stone.

Mr. Mahar used to own a quarry out of Lockport. Then he sold it...to LeFarge, who consolidated with other quarries and concrete and building enterprises into the billion dollar enterprise, LeFarge North America of Switzerland. That quarry Mahar sold? It used to be named Frontier Stone. What are the odds, huh? Actually not that crazy. There are hundreds of stone quarries, many of which have the word "Frontier Stone" in their title. I would put money on it that they are somehow all financially linked. Anyway back to Lefarge North America: Big news for them last year! The 25 billion dollar company Lefarge went and officially merged with Holcim, a France-based company and their main competition (July 2015). Together, they're worth more than 40 billion dollars. Their second biggest investor is a Russian cement maker-billionaire Filaret Galchev, who has a 10.8 percent stake in the company. And, there's Swiss billionaire Thomas Schmidheiny, "Holcim's largest shareholder and the billionaire co-architect of the merger."

The brand new joint corporation Lefargeholcim's even has a cool new slogan! "We are local everywhere." Pretty clever marketing. Instead of where's Waldo, it's like, Where's Dave Mahar? The "We are local everywhere" behemoth boasts of enterprises in more than 80 countries all over the world, from Nigeria to China to Brazil, to right here in the good old U.S. of A.!

Do you think these people care if one tiny corner of their empire ends up with crap water, broken roads, dry ponds, sour wells, or constant flooding? Or the wildlife at our Refuge? Please. The word "protected" is likely a dirty word to such an industry, who surely looks greedily upon all that stone beneath the Refuge...just wasting away, unharvested, beneath the quiet glade.

Such knowledge fill us with misgivings and a lack of trust.

You know who we do trust? The Shelby Town Board.

And, we trust Wendi Pencille, a person who has worked tirelessly and without compensation for a decade to contribute her knowledge and time to our town's welfare, and what thanks does she get? She's attacked for it. She's summed up as no more than some wildlife rehabilitator, not an expert.

In fact, her role as a wildlife rehabilitator just happens to be the happy result of her varied science and technology degrees and certifications from highly respected universities. It is not her full time job and does not reflect her only expertise. The fact is, the only reason she wasn't deemed an expert was because she didn't have a lawyer to say it was so. A resume, apparently, wasn't good enough for the judge in the hearing. If you study the so-called credentials of the "experts" cited throughout Frontier Stone's various documentation, you'll find Pencille's credentials exceed theirs, in both depth and prestige. But what she did not have at that unexpected March hearing was an expensive lawyer to put her resume in lawyerspeak and verify it. Should we mention that it was the state itself who awarded her all the degrees and credentials she's earned? One more irony.

What matters at the end of the day is this: The quarry issue is not a Democrat vs Republican thing, or about one hard working farmer versus a person who cares deeply for endangered birds.

This is a Monster Conglomerate vs. Shelby, a tiny piece of the world that a multi-billion dollar stone-crushing enterprise could give two hoots about.

After looking into this massive adversary, we are more impressed than ever that the Shelby Town Board has taken a stand with their proposed law. Who's the tyrant here? It's not the Town Board.

For months-years-the DEC and the Wildlife Refuge staff have assured the public that this was not going to fly. It defied logic! And for a time, they fought tooth and nail against such a prospect. Of COURSE it would desecrate the Refuge.

But over time, they've been worn down with the shifting and vicious winds they've faced, and now, here they sit, hunkered down, waiting. Daring to challenge the giant? Hoping they can get early retirement? They are the ones who made good sound scientific arguments; Frontier's "experts" basically come back time and again with

"No we won't! And our guy totally agrees the Refuge will be fine! I mean, probably...I mean listen, There's no STUDY to verify your objections to our operation...Tell you what. If we DO wreck the environment/dump sulphur and minerals down your well/drain your pond/flood your wetlands/kill your fish and birds/make hunting a thing you used to do but don't anymore/We'll monitor things/pay a fine/pipe in some water/send in a box of water bottles/continue to monitor things." http://www.frontierstonewny.com/water

And so on. And that, apparently, is all it takes for New York State judge to roll over and say "Yeah I guess."

Shelby, Medina, Orleans County: WE SHOULD NOT CARE that some state judge signed off on this plan and that the DEC is maybe going to issue the permit after all and it's going to happen; ah well! Nothing to do about it!

There is something to do, and our Town Board is doing their best to do it. They are also giving us a chance to help. We are facing a great big rip off at our expense. Because who cares about a poor, rural county in Western New York? Russian billionaires don't, I can tell you that.

The usual line we're fed is, "Well, they did their due diligence."

Did their what? Apparently, "Due diligence" a legal phrase, means if you grease enough of the right hands, someone will sign on the dotted line and say Works for Me. "Due Diligence" must also mean an entity has a whoppingly bigger wallet. An entity that is outlandishly, laughably connected politically (except for the part about not being funny). It does not mean they are right. And it does not mean that we don't have the power to stop them.

And this fight is nothing to them. It's part of their game.

Speaking of fights:

Mr. Chester Zelezny wrote to the OrleansHub and said he's been called greedy and attacked personally by people regarding this issue. That's not right either. I do not judge him. In fact, I admire and respect his family. I do, however, judge the people that came to him and manipulated him with a giant check it'd be hard for any hardworking guy to turn down. Here he is, probably in a position where he could pay off the debt for every single family member, make all of their lives easier. No more financial burdens for any and all. I can't say for certain I know what I'd do. I know what I SAY I would do (Save the wetlands!) but really. I have never walked in his shoes. And I would not want to face such temptation.

Frontier and the conglomerate LefargeHolcim waiting in the wings to swallow them up...this is our adversary. They are the ones I judge. They are the ones that have absolutely known from the beginning that Mr. Zelazney's property was that close to a wetland. And that's it. They targeted his land for exactly that reason.

They WANT the wetland to do their wash and flush for them. They WANT little Shelby to fail. It will help them re-define what "refuge" or "protected" means, not just here, but all over the country. The results of our now decade-long battle here in Shelby is worth the financial investment (attorneys' fees, that is) because the NYS ruling might have far reaching and pro-industrialist consequences upon any community with land adjacent that is so-called "protected", from the Rockies to the Sequoias. Because monstrosity money thinks that way: don't like the rules? Re-define them. Give yourself a do-over by electing the right people and greasing the right hands. A protected wetland in Western New York, with someone like Cuomo at the helm, Mister How Much You Got himself? I'm thinking we were deemed sheep ready for the slaughter. Enter the Wolves.

And that is why we are grateful to have this particular Board. They've got our back, and they've been studying this issue for a long time. And not one of them is some bleeding heart liberal tree hugger. They are determined, hardworking citizens who are standing up for us. It's time we stand for them, too, and roll up our sleeves to help better craft the law instead of calling it by a different name (tyranny, control, etc.) and demanding they rip it up. There is tyranny at work here, and that is certain, but it is not from within. It is from without.

Shelby's Town Board may have erred in that their Overlay District Plan is both too broad and too narrow: it is hard to understand how the borders were determined. It seems to imply that things like campgrounds and hunting will be threatened. It frightens good people into thinking that they are being attacked, instead of seeing it for what it is: A shield that guards us.

But it can be fixed. Not thrown away. Specify that we are talking about any industry that threatens the wetlands and the economic, social, and environmental benefits that come with it. When the town is threatened by outside forces, be they in Gasport or Lockport or, more insidiously, from forces at work in Switzerland and France and Russia. And it is up to our Town Board to be the Knights we tasked with bravely facing such demons down.

I just taught my English class the rationale for why we teach little children fairy tales and mythology. Why? Because such stories teach us about powerful forces of good and evil in the world. That way, when we're grownups, we are better able to recognize real life evil when it comes. And we must confront it. Not give in to either temptation or threats.

We would like to thank our Shelby Town Board members for the time, energy, and certain sleep they've sacrificed all this time, and for all of the guarding they've done thus far. We respectfully request they keep on. Stay true to the path you've forged.

I ask my neighbors in Shelby to contact their Board members this week for the comment period, by letter or by email (http://www.townofshelbyny.org/town-board1.html ) and tell them you support the creation of a protective Overlay District. October 1 is less than a week away.

Sincerely,

Karen and Ric Jones, Shelby

 

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