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Fenton ZBA Reverses Town's Decision on Natural Gas Project

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TOWN OF FENTON, NY -

In a three-to-two vote, the Fenton Zoning Board of Appeals reversed the decision by the Town's Building Inspector that would've allowed a natural gas compressor station to be built on West Service Road. The ruling went in favor of many outspoken community members and the Chenango Valley Central School District - both who appealed the original decision.

ZBA Chairman Dale Gregory and Timothy Brown both sided with the Building Inspector while Cindy Cook, Mikel Lidell, and Michael Ward all opposed.

"This project is squashed at this point they cannot be here so we are thrilled, we are very happy and proud of our town for making the right decision," said Adrienne Irons, a resident against the compressor station. She has been a vocal leader in rallying many other community members to join the fight against building the project in Fenton. 

"We are a very strong community, we are a small community but we are a large personality community," said Irons. "We've pulled together as a community."

But not everyone was so pleased with tonight's outcome including the Vermont-based energy company, NG Advantage. Their spokesperson, Morgan Hook says the company is figuring what to do next.

"NG Advantage is disappointed with the Town of Fenton Zoning Board’s decision," said Hook. "We will review all options before deciding what our next steps will be."

Tuesday's vote by the ZBA means that the group found that a natural gas compressor station does not fall under the Town's Zoning Laws as a "trucking terminal" in a limited industrial zone. This has been the main obstacle that both NG and its opponents have been debating for months - since Broome County Supreme Judge Ferris Lebous ruled against the Fenton Planning Board back in August of 2017. In his decision, he left the zoning laws up to interpretation by the community and its leaders. On October 12, 2017, Matthew Banks, the Town's Building Inspector submitted a 13-page document to the Fenton Board declaring that a trucking terminal did fit within the Town's zoning laws as limited industrial. 

Both Meave Tooher, the lawyer representing the Chenango Valley Central School District and Claudia Braymer, the lawyer representing a group of residents say tonight's decision is a victory for the community.

"They are obviously so relieved and they are thrilled to have had this decision go their way," said Braymer. "I thought they did a good job of taking their time to carefully deliberate all of the materials that they got at the last hearing and made a very reasonable, measured decision."

"This is a wonderful decision for the school district, the Board made the right decision, I know it wasn't an easy decision but they gave it very careful consideration and they came down in favor of the community and what the community's expectations are for how property should be used," said Tooher.

Both lawyers say there are only a few options that NG Advantage has left if they would like to move forward with the project. First, they could go back to the ZBA and ask for a land variance but Tooher says that will be difficult.

"That would be a very uphill battle given that they've already said it's not an appropriate use in the district," said Tooher.

The company could go to the Town Board and ask them to change the laws or they could sue the Town.

"I think they would try to argue that this was an unreasonable decision and that they were entitled to have this station be in this location," said Braymer. That argument would go back to the Supreme Court as an Article 78.

The last choice is for NG Advantage to completely move out of the area and end the legal battle that began back in early 2017. 

For the first time in a long time, the current state of the project is certain, it has been stopped and will not continue as is, but the future is a lot less clear. Though, no matter what happens next, Fenton residents say they're not going anywhere without a fight.

"I personally am in this for the long haul I know the group that we're in, Fenton Residents Against the Compressor Station is also in it for the long haul, we're prepared to battle as long as we need to because this is our community, it's not their community," said Irons.