Today is not Tuesday – it is Thursday and I am late writing this blog. On my way to yet another meeting – this one more church-oriented than some others I attend – I pondered what to write. Then, as I drove over a road that, by this time next week, may be only be gravel as the pavement deteriorates from heavy truck use, I decided to write about changes in Tioga County.
At 8AM this morning, I attended a committee meeting of the planning committee for the county health partnership. For several months, the committee has been aware that changes accompanying the gas industry explosion (pun intended) will have profound effects on the communities in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. We are learning, for instance, that farmers who for generations could barely get a living out of their fertile land now find themselves millionaires – too much money, too few plans, too much to worry about now. I am so happy that families who did without for many years are able to “do with” now. How wonderful for them to be able to buy a truck with cash, to pay off mortgages that date back to the days of their fathers or grandfathers. How incredible that children can have all new clothes for school, that a family can afford that flat screen TV and that parents can sleep without nightmares about the annual taxes.
Alongside the “incredibles” and the good fortune is the destruction of the environment by gas company trucks that have no long-term stake in the area. Nineteen months here does not make me a native by any stretch of the imagination, but I have more roots than many who are coming now. Many leave their families “back home” bringing new problems: the health system is poised to explode. Several months ago, I wrote that the hospital was expanding their emergency room; now I fear the expansion is going to be too small. Others do bring their families to an area without housing and to schools that are not prepared to accommodate many new children.
People say “those people in Tioga County have to change their ways” meaning that we must lock our house doors (some don’t even have a key) and the days of running into the grocery with car still running are past. We see fights in entertainment venues that had rarely experienced unruly behavior. When looking at the stats for our county, I found only one murder in several years – that last winter when a landlord tried to evict a tenant. What will I find in a year or two about the murder rate and the rates of domestic violence or STDs?
Today, I again understood how fortunate I was to purchase my Wellsboro home on a short road; in Mansfield, 12 miles east; it is difficult to get through the red light. In our weekly paper (read by all) we see that cars are being set on fire – did that come with the gas people or did the gas explosion cause so much unhappiness that there is retaliation – or ate the tow even connected? Projected growth requires new sewage treatment plant, new roads, more housing, deluxe mall-like stores. Good for business and those who are able to adapt.
We all appreciate how fortunate some are to have the land and royalties; yet I grieve the loss of a way of life. New York, a few short miles to the north has Marcellus Shale as well. The state declared a moratorium on exploration and drilling while it discerns the ramifications of this largess. The gas will not go away. Perhaps with planning, New York can miss the tragic consequences we are living.
I will end my day with a 7PM church board meeting. One primary thing on my agenda is warning them that we may be in for a crisis we are not prepared to meet. I am not sure that membership growth from new community residents can offset the needs as dysfunctional families turn to the church for help and some newcomers seek rental assistance and food concerns plague more families living on the edge. Will we – the CHURCH – be ready to step in where needed? We better get our thinking caps on – be creative and courageous because this could be our biggest challenge yet.