Washington County judge hears argument on Range-Robinson Twp. dispute

April 29, 2013

In Washington County Court Monday morning, Range Resources Inc. and Robinson Township aired their ongoing dispute over proposed Marcellus Shale drilling, but with no immediate resolution.

Range claims Robinson Township supervisors are deliberately refusing to make decisions on applications to drill on a 167.5-acre parcel owned by Michelle F. Parees and Robert M. Frame and on an 84-acre parcel owned by Rodger C. and Susan C. Kendall on Valley View Road in Bulger.

Range filed applications in September. A hearing for the Parees property was held Nov. 20, with a decision due by Jan. 4, while a hearing on the Kendall property was held Dec. 10, with a decision due by Jan. 24, according to court papers filed by Range.

Township supervisors, contending they rejected the wells because Range hadn’t properly answered questions about site plans and noise standards, denied Range’s conditional-use applications Feb. 12.

Range contends it has met the same requirements for the two proposed wells as it has for others the company drilled in the township in 2010.

Attorneys retained by the township claim the dispute should not be in court at all.

“They need to exhaust their remedy under the Municipal Planning Code before they seek relief from this court,” attorney Philip Sbrolla told Judge John DiSalle.

Range attorney Shawn Gallagher countered, “Under their line of reasoning, they could still be holding hearings today. The township supervisors cannot hold this open indefinitely.”

He accused the township supervisors of “soliciting” people to come to hearings to speak out against Range. “Obviously, we do not attend,” Gallagher said.

“Even if no one shows up, don’t (the supervisors) have a duty to consider the public?” DiSalle asked.

Jonathan Kamin, attorney for the township, said of Range after the court appearance, “Their entire argument today is about lack of public process. They’ve been given nothing but public process. They are saying they do not want public process.”

Instead, Kamin said, Range has shown a preference to litigate the matter rather than go through the land-use process prescribed for municipalities, echoing the sentiments of Brian Coppola, chairman of the supervisors, who told constituents he’d prefer that Range reapply for local approvals.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella previously said that taking the matter to court was “the last thing we wanted to do, but we were left with no choice.”

Gallagher also maintains Range submitted identical materials in 2010 to the township for a concrete pad in Imperial on which it wants to keep water tankers. “The pad was remediated. It’s gone. Range wants to put the pad back on the property for that same use,” he told the judge.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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