Mt. Pleasant approves Marcellus tank pad
From left, newly appointed Mt. Pleasant supervisor Dencil Backus spoke with attorney Charles Means, who drafted the conditional-use application document for the township, and Range Resources attorney Shawn Gallagher after a special meeting Friday.
Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
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From freshwater impoundment to recycled wastewater tank farm, Range Resources can now make the conversion with Mt. Pleasant Township’s approval.
After shooting down several proposals from the Marcellus Shale company in recent months, township officials reached an agreement regarding the Stewart impoundment during a special meeting Friday.
Supervisors Larry Grimm, Bryan Smith and Dencil Backus – who was recently appointed to the board after Arden McCartney resigned – unanimously voted to approve the conditional use application of an above-ground storage facility for recycled frack water with special conditions. The vote permits Range to convert the Stewart impoundment on Caldwell Road, which holds freshwater, into enclosed storage tanks capable of holding 10 million gallons of recycled water. The board rejected earlier Range proposals that also called for the closing of Carter impoundment and legal recognition of Cowden and Clingerman impoundments, all of which were contested by some residents.
Before making a motion to approve the Stewart tank pad, Backus addressed a formal motion made by Range attorney Shawn Gallagher asking Backus to recuse himself and abstain from voting. Backus criticized previous proposals submitted by Range regarding four water impoundments in the township.
Backus cited Section 603 of the Second Class Township Code, which states that a board member shall not be disqualified from voting on an issue “solely because the member has previously expressed an opinion on the issue,” either officially or unofficially.
“In the past, I have indeed expressed, on a number of occasions, a series of opinions about gas and oil related issues, but I have never made those statements in an official capacity and certainly not as a supervisor,” Backus said. “I fully understand that a township supervisor needs to make judgements based upon fairness, based upon good, honest evidence and the examination of those.”
In response, Gallagher said he believed Backus should not be permitted to vote because Section 603 only pertains to legislative action, not quasi-judicial decisions.
Regardless, the vote proceeded and Range representative Jim Cannon said he was pleased with the result. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Cannon, manager of local government relations. Cannon said the company would review the eight conditions for the Stewart tank pad and decide how to proceed.
The document, drafted by attorney Charles Means, outlined eight conditions with which Range must comply, including regulations on odor, the removal of debris and waste, and dust abatement on the proposed access road. The previous access road would no longer be used. A chain-link fence at least eight feet high must be constructed around the pad site, tanks must be painted a color that blends in with surroundings and Range must screen the facility from properties on Quarry Lane.
Range is expected to reimburse the township for all fees, and Range must provide the township with a written lease specifically defining the leased site location prior to beginning construction. Lastly, Range must obtain a grading permit “if applicable and unless preempted or superseded by state or federal law.”
Smith felt relieved that the board had reached a consensus with Range regarding the Stewart impoundment. Smith said he hoped the township would continue to work with Range to decide the fate of the remaining three impoundments. “I think we’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of thought and a lot of sleepless nights,” Smith said. “I think we’re confident in the decision we made. I have a few more gray hairs over this.”
From the start, a group of residents urged township supervisors not to approve any measures that would allow continued operations of Range’s four water impoundments. Representatives from ten legal and environmental organizations sent a letter to supervisors and zoning board members prior to Friday’s meeting, urging them to vote down the proposal. The group based their argument on health and environmental concerns, potential changes in state oil and gas waste management laws and Range’s alleged violation of township zoning laws.
“Pollution events and problems at Range Resource’s Carter and other nearby impoundments serve as a cautionary tale for the residents of Hickory,” the letter read. “They clearly also do for the township, which correctly rejected Range Resource’s attempted ‘quid pro quo’ swap of one large-scale waste facility in an agricultural and residential area for another.”
The vote on Stewart impoundment was taken nearly a month after supervisors held a conditional-use hearing on the matter. Range did not indicate when construction would begin.