Range Resources appeals Mt. Pleasant decision

January 29, 2014
Mt. Pleasant Township Zoning Hearing Board members Barry Johnston, right, and Ron Stewart, middle, talk with residents following the zoning hearing board meeting January 13. - Karen Mansfield / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Range Resources is appealing a decision by Mt. Pleasant Township officials pertaining to the conversion of a freshwater impoundment into a recycled wastewater facility.

Last month, the board of supervisors approved Range’s conditional use application to construct above-ground holding tanks at the site of the current Stewart impoundment and outlined eight special conditions that Range must follow. Range is appealing half of those conditions, in addition to the board’s denial of Range’s request for Supervisor Dencil Backus to excuse himself and refrain from voting at the Dec. 20 meeting.

Range attorney Shawn Gallagher filed the appeal Tuesday in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of the natural gas drilling company.

Range is not appealing the board’s decision as a whole, but the company objects to portions of the decision that “impose erroneous and unreasonable conditions to the supervisors’ otherwise proper approval of Range’s zoning application for conditional use approval,” according to the notice of appeal.

Range is disputing one condition that would require the company to investigate complaints of odor or air pollution on any adjoining property to the Stewart facility. Range would be required to inspect the vent and filtering systems installed inside the tanks and report all findings to the township. If the investigation reveals odor or air pollution, Range would be required to remedy the problem and conduct ongoing tests “for a reasonable time” to confirm whether the remediation was successful.

In the notice of appeal, Range said air pollution is monitored by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and other conditions that were imposed by the township are “not reasonably related to a valid public interest.”

Range is appealing the condition that would require the company to reimburse the township for all fees, arguing it violates a section of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Code.

Another condition calls for Range to “minimize and remove debris and waste” and to remove the existing Stewart impoundment liner from the property rather than bury the liner on subject property. Range’s notice of appeal states, “The closure of the impoundment, as provided for in condition No. 5, must be done in accordance with a site reclamation or restoration plan that complies with DEP’s rules and regulations applicable to the same.”

Lastly, Range argued the township’s requirement of a grading permit is preempted by Act 13, the law governing oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Range stated that the company asked supervisors to reconsider these conditions Jan. 13 but did not receive a response.

“While Range tried to work cooperatively with Mt. Pleasant Township, the township and township supervisors have refused to apply the law as it relates to the development of Range’s leasehold interests by imposing conditions that are contrary to law,” reads the notice of appeal.

Range also stated in the notice that Backus, who was appointed to the board after Arden McCartney resigned, should not have been permitted to vote on the Stewart application because he previously criticized the company and sought legal counsel to oppose existing water impoundments in the township. Range argued Backus should have recused himself because he is an advocate who publicly expressed predisposition at township meetings before he became a supervisor.

At the December meeting, Backus refused to recuse himself and 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 at the meeting. “I fully understand that a township supervisor needs to make judgements based upon fairness, based upon good, honest evidence and the examination of those.”

Backus, along with supervisors Larry Grimm and Bryan Smith, unanimously approved the conditional use application of the Stewart facility at that meeting.

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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