Letter to New York State Senator Thomas Libous

Dear Senator Libous:

I am writing today, and sending a copy of this letter to both the Albany and Binghamton offices, because I have called and left messages at both of your offices, and have not had a return call. While I can appreciate that there are differences between us – you are a republican, serving in the NYS Senate, who is strongly in favor of hydro-fracking, while I am a democrat, retired after a career in social work, who strongly opposes hydro-fracking – I think that it is important that we communicate. For not only do we both live in the same general region, but I believe that we do have many important things in common. We both have a love for our families and our communities, and we both want what is best for everyone in our state. That includes a strong economy, affordable energy, and clean water. That said, I write this in hope that your same aides that have not returned my phone
messages will bring this letter to your attention.

We have, in the past, had cordial communications. Years ago, you used to play basketball with my brother-in-law, Keith Miley, of Sidney. In 1998, after his son was the victim of a brutal, racist hate crime (at the General Clinton Canoe Regatta), I had called your office. After initially being told by an aide that this was something that you had no interest in, someone did bring my call to your attention, and you may recall we exchanged letters about issues relating to how to prevent violence from occuring in schools and communities.

More recently, we had the opportunity to speak when you visited Guilford, N.Y., to speak with our Historical Society. I remember that the gentleman who accompanied you wanted everyone to take their coats off; I was not able to, because I had recently undergone two surgeries on my back. What really stood out that evening was your talking to my then 11-year old daughter, and asking her questions about the Bainbridge-Guilford school. (Chloe is a senior now, a scholar/ athlete who will soon be off to college. This morning, as I write this, she is in Norwich for her “New Visions Law & Government” course. She has a 100 in the course, part of her 100.13 GPA!)

This summer, I have had the opportunity to attend a number of grass roots meetings and rallies, that were in opposition to hydro-fracking. I also attended Town Board meetings in Afton, Coventry, Bainbridge, and Sidney. More, I have had the pleasure of being invited to speak at public meetings across the Southern Tier, and elsewhere in our state.

In large part, I have been asked to speak to rallies and to church groups, because of my background. For many years, I served as the top assistant to Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman. The late Chief Waterman was widely recognized as the leading authority on burial protection and repatriation issues. In some cases, Paul and I found that republican elected officials were far better to deal with than democrats; for example, Assemblyman Cliffoird Crouch was not only willing to come to Onondaga to meet with us, but proved to be a man of his word. Hence, in my two sons’ recently published book on the Indian history of upstate New York, Assemblyman Crouch is the only politician who’s picture appears in its 360 pages.

I have also had decades of experience in working to get toxic, industrial waste dump sites cleaned. For example, I invested twenty years of effort on the 120-acre dump site in Sidney Center, in Delaware County. The US EPA “split” the dump into two “Super Fund Sites”: the Richardson Hill and the Sidney Landfill Sites. I assisted attorneys at the EPA and US Department of Justice in documenting the numerous industries that dumped there, both legally and illegally, and also was able to get reluctant witnesses to go to Washington, DC, to meet with these attornies.

The long-term effects of toxic industrial waste dump sites are brutal. I grew up in the “suburbs” of East Guilford. Our neighborhood’s water had been contaminated by the BAGS landfill (Bainbridge, Afton, Guilford, and Sidney). Literally every family there, just as near the Richardson Hill site, had members who suffered from chronic and often fatal diseases, including cancer. Health studies based upon both of these sites – as opposed to those based upon “town lines” – document that people in those neighborhoods are dying at significantly lower ages than had generations before the dumping.

Thus, when I have spoken publicly, I have been able to talk about my experiences with toxic dump sites that contaminate local water resources; about efforts to get industries and government officials – both elected and non-elected – to address the hazards they pose; about what I’ve learned from having Robert Kennedy, Jr., River Keeper, and some of the top surface and ground water firms in the nation assist the grass roots groups I worked with; and about the important lessons that I learned while working with Chief Paul Waterman.

Many of those same toxic materials that were dumped at Richardson Hill and the BAGS landfill are the same ones used in hydro-fracking. Thus, the millions of gallons of water that would be required for hydro-fracking will be contaminated with those same poisons. While I understand that you believe the process is relatively safe, I would like to speak about some of the points that Chief Waterman taught to me:

(1)Water is the first law of life on Earth.
(2)All life on Earth began in the water.
(3)When scientists look for life on distant planets, the first thing they look for is evidence that water may have existed there.
(4)There is life in all clean water on Earth; also, all life outside of the water still depends upon it for life.
(5) The only “dead” water on Earth is that which has been destroyed by toxic industrial waste.
(6)What human beings pour into water goes downstream; this is true in the context of geography, to the next community, and in time, to the next generation.
(7)We presently lack the technology to actually “clean up” a toxic waste dump site. This is true on Richardson Hill, at the BAGS site, and at the old K-Mart Plaza in Sidney. The best that can be done is to try to contain the spread of the poisons.
(8)There are two types of law: Man’s Law and Natural Law. If you break man’s law, you might not get caught. If caught, you might hire a capable attorney; make a plea deal; get probation; or maybe a suspended sentence. But there is no escaping natural law. There are no attorneys, no judges, no juries. There are only consequences. And natural law can be extremely harsh, causing suffering, illness, and death.

I have spoken about this with two local energy business leaders who you know, cousins Joseph and Rick Mirabito. We went to school together in Sidney, and have remained friends in our adult lives. Just as we enjoy talking about local high school basketball, we can have calm, rational discussions about the many issues relating to hydro-fracking. Reasonable people can disagree, but it is essential that those disagreements do not cut-off communication.

I have heard that Governor Andrew Cuomo and you have discussed using the Southern Tier to showcase hydro-fracking in our state. Obviously, I am opposed to that, and believe that it is important that the two of you meet with myself and a couple other anti-fracking representatives to discuss this. Yesterday, I wrote to Governor Cuomo – I have had the same lack of response from calling and leaving messages at his office, as I have had with your Albany and Binghamton offices. I made the same request for a meeting.

One more thought: this summer, I spoke about hydro-fracking at a church in Cortland. As I was getting ready to be introduced, I noticed two large frames on the wall behind me. They contained old photos and newspaper clippings, about a young minister who spoke in that exact spot in the late 1950s. It was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. That made a huge impression on me, as I’m sure you can appreciate.

I’ve told both Joe and Rick Mirabito that, if I am unable to get a meeting with Governor Cuomo and you, that I am prepared to go on a hunger strike. It is not something that I want to do. But I have discussed the possibility with family and friends, including a number that are journalists for newspapers and television throughout our state. Also, a surprising number of elderly women from the churches I have spoken at, have said that they would join me. We would, of course, be totally non-violent, and not create any public disturbance. I have assured Joe and Rick that I would definitely do my best to reach out for a meeting, before taking such a step. Hence, this letter.

I thank you for your consideration. Wishing you and your family the best of holiday seasons.

Patrick R. McElligott