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The Hemlock-Canadice balancing act 

Anti-fracking groups in the Rochester area want the state Department of Environmental Conservation to state strongly and unequivocally that it won't allow drilling on the Hemlock-Canadice forest lands.

And they're pushing for the state to make the property either a unique area or a state nature and historic preserve — defined designations that limit use of the land. The restrictions include prohibitions on gas and oil drilling, the activists say.

But City of Rochester officials say that such high levels of protections and restrictions could interfere with routine maintenance of the property, such as erosion control measures and efforts to diversify tree populations and vegetation.

The land can be pristine, says Rochester Mayor Tom Richards, it just can't be left entirely to nature's hand.

"In order to preserve that as a water source, there has to be active management," Richards says. "That means you've got to clean it up every so often."

Hemlock and Canadice Lakes provide drinking water for the city and several towns in the region, so ensuring that the water remains unspoiled is critical. The city used to own all of the shoreline property around the lakes, but sold it to the state in 2010 for permanent protection.

The state DEC is developing a management plan for the forest land, but a draft of the document did not clearly prohibit gas and oil drilling; it stated that the activity probably wouldn't be allowed on the property.

The DEC has received approximately 400 comments on the draft plan, most dealing with the language on gas and oil drilling. DEC representatives say that the final plan will clarify that the department has no intention of allowing gas and oil drilling on the property.

Mayor Richards agrees that oil and gas drilling are not appropriate for the Canadice-Hemlock forest land. He, too, wants the DEC to directly state that the activity will not be permitted, and the city raised that point in comments it submitted to the DEC.

City of Rochester officials say that such high levels of protections and restrictions for the Hemlock-Canadice forest lands could interfere with routine maintenance, such as erosion control measures and efforts to diversify tree populations and vegetation. The land can be pristine, says Rochester Mayor Tom Richards, it just can't be left entirely to nature's hand.

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