Upper Burrell residents take sides on drilling

Upper-BurrellBy Liz Hayes

Upper Burrell residents Monday told supervisors they’re worried how the board might change the township’s regulations regarding where Marcellus shale natural gas drilling can occur.

But they don’t all fear the same thing.

Many worry supervisors will further restrict where drilling can occur, preventing residents from leasing their land to drillers.

Others want drilling to be more restrictive to protect the township’s rural environment.

“This board is stuck in the middle,” said Steve Yakopec, the township’s solicitor. “It’s a very complicated thing. This is something that has to be balanced.”

Yakopec and supervisors reignited the debate over unconventional drilling last month when they agreed to have Yakopec look into what changes need to be made to the township’s zoning ordinance to comply with court decisions.

Supervisors took no action on the issue Monday.

Yakopec said when the state Supreme Court struck down much of Act 13, the state law that imposed impact fees on drillers and limited municipal officials’ ability to decide where drilling occurs, shale drilling was described as an industrial use.

Yakopec said the ruling does not necessarily mean drilling must occur only in industrial zones — land limited largely to Alcoa-owned property and the Westmoreland Business and Research Park.

However, he said it does mean supervisors need to carefully consider where they allow drilling to protect citizens’ rights to a clean environment.

He noted that several Western Pennsylvania municipalities are being sued for allowing drilling in residential neighborhoods.

The township currently permits drilling in all zones by conditional use. That means drilling requests are reviewed case by case and supervisors can set restrictions on noise, lighting, fencing and other public safety and nuisance issues.

Frank Ross of Markle Road noted several drilling companies have been approaching residents about leasing land. He felt any action by supervisors to block drilling in residential areas was an infringement on residents’ property rights.

Others spoke in favor of the money residents can earn through leases and impact fees the township can collect.

“Let’s make some money for the people in Upper Burrell,” said Schafer Drive resident Allan Beattie.
Tom Halkias of Bethesda Drive asked whether the issue could be taken up by a ballot referendum, a suggestion that got wide support from the standing-room-only crowd.

“I don’t trust the verdict of these three,” Halkias said of Supervisors Ross Walker III, Pete Dombroski and Allen Uhler.

The supervisors agreed to check into if and how the issue could be put before voters.
Yakopec said any changes to the zoning ordinance would require public hearings before the planning commission and supervisors.

Brenda Milito, also of Bethesda Drive, requested supervisors arrange a presentation with all drilling companies doing business in Upper Burrell to learn about the process and their plans. A representative of Huntley & Huntley, a Monroeville-based drilling company, attended Monday’s supervisors meeting and offered to meet with residents.

Milito sounded relieved when she learned any township drilling restrictions would primarily impact only the well sites, not land under which horizontal drilling would occur.

Ron Slabe of Angelcrest Drive, a vocal environmental advocate, said even if the majority support drilling in residential areas, the process cannot infringe on others’ property rights and constitutional rights to a clean environment.

Yakopec said he’ll continue to research what other municipalities are doing about drilling regulations.

Read more: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/yourallekiskivalley/yourallekiskivalleymore/7082371-74/drilling-supervisors-residents#ixzz3ILJf6rGl
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