Carter, Cowden, Clingerman and Stewart will remain in Mt. Pleasant Township for now. But whether or not the township zoning board will permit these Marcellus Shale water impoundments to operate lawfully is still the subject of some debate.
Township officials voted unanimously to reject a resolution proposed by Range Resources – the natural gas drilling company that owns the impoundments – to close Carter impoundment and convert Stewart impoundment into an above-ground holding facility.
Supervisors Arden McCartney, Larry Grimm and Bryan Smith approved a motion to turn down Range’s offer Saturday morning during a special meeting at the township community center in Hickory.
Supervisors scheduled the meeting after Range attorney Shawn Gallagher sent a letter to township solicitor Bill Johnson Sept. 18 indicating that Range sought a compromise to end the ongoing zoning board hearings that began when the township issued notices of violation to Range’s four impoundments.
Gallagher’s three-part plan included the immediate closing and restoration of the Carter impoundment, located off of Fort Cherry Road, and the conversion of Stewart impoundment, located on Caldwell Road and Route 50, into above-ground, contained and covered storage tanks.
The Carter impoundment is a facility that recycles water used in the hydraulic fracturing process, while the three other impoundments are used for fresh-water storage.
Range planned to convert Stewart into storage tanks that would be 80 feet in diameter, 30 feet high and would have the capacity to hold 15 million gallons of water.
The proposal also included a clause that, if approved, would have compelled the township to retract its notices of violation and recognize the nonconforming status of the remaining impoundments.
The township maintains its position that Range violated zoning ordinance by failing to restore the impoundments after completing all frack wells that were nearby.
Gallagher said Range seeks a solution that suits both parties, but added that Range is prepared to enter litigation if the township doesn’t grant the impoundments nonconforming use.
“We obviously have a different position with respect to the notices of violation,” Gallagher said. “This is still pending, but we have expressed that all four of the impoundments are legal nonconforming use.”
During a public comment period that lasted over an hour, several residents said they were concerned about the potential health risks posed by the impoundments, and several others said supervisors should only consider a proposal that would relocate impoundments to the industrial zone in the Westland area of the township.
Range representatives said they were not familiar with that area and did not know if land was even available there. Gallagher said the company would not make location-based revisions to the proposal.
“It is safe to say that is an offer that we would take into consideration for some point in the future,” said Scott Roy, vice president of government affairs, “but the question is activity today, and given our desire to re-enter the township to conduct activity again, and in an effort to resolve these issues in the near term, that does not provide a resolution of the current issues.”
Kimberly Staub, one of seven residents represented by attorney Dwight Ferguson at the meeting, said she is directly affected by the Carter impoundment because it is located 815 feet from her farm. Staub told the board that she and her family tested positive for harmful toxins, which she believes is the result of volatile organic compounds released into the air from frack water that is recycled in the impoundment.
“I hope the township supervisors and board will think long and hard about allowing wastewater ponds in residential or agricultural zones,” Staub said. “If we continue to allow this activity to go on in Mt. Pleasant Township, my story just might end up being yours.”
A few residents self-identified as “pro-drilling,” but said they took issue with Range skirting around the zoning ordinance. Others expressed a more favorable opinion of the impoundments and said they had no complaints or health issues. Paul Battista, chairman of the municipal authority, said the natural gas industry presented an “historic” opportunity and that the board should work cooperatively with Range.
Dencil Backus, of Walnut Road, asked Range officials if there was room to alter the proposed plan.
“I understand that they have very good reasons for making the proposal that they have made,” Backus said. “The township has very good reasons for countering that proposal, but … I really am getting the sense that it is more of a take it or leave it (deal), and that’s not my experience with negotiation.”
Gallagher said there is not much to negotiate at this point because Range has not considered a counter offer. Supervisors said they would be open to further discussion with Range if a different plan was presented.
The next zoning hearing regarding the impoundments will be held 7 p.m. Oct. 8.