Special meeting set on Mt. Pleasant impoundments

September 25, 2013

Mt. Pleasant Township officials are considering whether to close a Marcellus Shale water impoundment that has been a source of frustration for nearby residents, while also converting another impoundment into an above-ground holding facility.

Range Resources proposed the changes as part of a resolution that company officials hope will end the ongoing dispute.

The four water impoundments within the township, operated by Range, will be the topic of the Mt. Pleasant Board of Supervisors’ special meeting at the township community center in Hickory at 9 a.m. Saturday.

In response to a slew of complaints pertaining mostly to heavy truck traffic near the Carter impoundment, Range Resources attorney Shawn Gallagher sent a letter to township solicitor Bill Johnson Sept. 18 outlining a proposed resolution.

“Of the four (impoundments), it is apparent that the operation of the Carter Impoundment is the source of most complaints from the township and its residents,” Gallagher wrote in the letter.

According to the proposed resolution, Range would immediately decommission the Carter impoundment and reclaim the site, as well as level and grade the Stewart impoundment for installation of above-ground, contained and covered storage tanks. Furthermore, Range is asking the township to recognize the nonconforming status of the Stewart, Clingerman and Cowden impoundments and withdraw its previous notices of violation. The Carter impoundment is a facility that recycles water used in the hydraulic fracturing process, while the other impoundments are used for fresh-water storage.

The township issued zoning-permit violation notices for all four impoundments earlier this year, stating that the wells closest to the site ceased operations and therefore the impoundments should be restored. Range, however, asserts that the impoundments are currently operating under nonconforming use.

“It has always been Range’s position that the NOVs (notices of violation) were issued in error because the impoundments are grandfathered nonconforming uses that predate the township’s Oil & Gas Amendment to the zoning ordinance,” Gallagher wrote in the letter. “In addition, Range believes that the NOVs should be dismissed for other procedural and equitable reasons, too.”

Johnson said the township’s recognition of nonconforming status would enable Range to lawfully operate the impoundments. Prior to 2011, gas wells were granted permitted use, which did not require special approval by supervisors, Johnson said. After the ordinance changed, gas wells were granted conditional use, meaning supervisors first had to approve activity at that site.

“The township’s position has been that the impoundments themselves were incidental uses of the land or were accessories to the gas drilling,” Johnson said. “(Range’s) contention is that the impoundment thus would be entitled to nonconforming status under current ordinance.”

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the four impoundments have been used periodically for several dozen wells, some more than 50 miles away. He said in the past, there was an impoundment at each well site, but centralized impoundments made it possible for fewer impoundments to be constructed.

Pitzarella said unlike the Carter impoundment, the Stewart impoundment has fewer residents who live nearby, so its use would be less likely to generate complaints. The Stewart impoundment would be converted into a holding tank, but it would serve the same purpose.

Pitzarella said Range also is requesting permission to set up temporary pipelines that would transport water from centralized impoundments to well sites, which the company hopes to construct in the township. He said these pipelines would be temporary and have little impact on residents, comparable to “running a hose from the back of your house to the front of your house.”

The board also is scheduled to hold a zoning hearing regarding the impoundments at 7 p.m. Oct. 8.

Emily Petsko joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in June 2013. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor's degree in journalism and global cultural studies.

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