Mt. Pleasant tables vote on impoundment zoning

February 27, 2014
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
From left, Mt. Pleasant Township supervisors Dencil Backus, Bryan Smith and Gary Farner voted Wednesday to table a measure that would amend the zoning ordinance and restrict where Marcellus Shale impoundments could be built in the township. Order a Print
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Emily Petsko / Observer-Reporter
Mt. Pleasant Township’s zoning map displays in purple the M-1 industrial district, bordering Chartiers Township, to which Marcellus Shale impoundments would be restricted if supervisors approve a curative zoning amendment. Order a Print

Range Resources representatives felt slighted by Mt. Pleasant Township when officials held a public hearing Wednesday on proposed zoning changes that would directly impact Marcellus Shale companies, but did not seek prior input from Range.

“This proposed ordinance regulates only us, so it’s a little disheartening that there hasn’t been any discussion with us,” said Shawn Gallagher, attorney for Range Resources, at the hearing. An overwhelming majority of gas leases in the township are held by Range Resources. The company also currently operates three water impoundments and plans to convert a fourth into an above-ground holding facility.

The township’s proposed zoning amendment would restrict impoundments and above-ground liquid storage facilities to the industrial district, which comprises 43 parcels of land on 478 acres. New water storage facilities would be permitted in other zoning districts only if they were an accessory to a primary-use facility, such as a gas well, on the same parcel of land.

Range officials argued the section on accessory uses is not clearly written, and thus the amendment would be even more restrictive than township officials perhaps intended.

“Not all of Range’s drilling occurs in the industrial district – in fact, none of it does,” Gallagher said. “So as drafted, Range doesn’t have the ability to use any kind of tanks, (including) temporary (tanks), even if they wanted to as an accessory use under this amendment in any other zoning district.” Confronted by a number of unanswered questions, supervisors Dencil Backus, Bryan Smith and Gary Farner voted to table action on the proposed amendment after the hearing ended. The board has until April 21 to pass a curative amendment pertaining to impoundments, or 180 days after the board adopted a resolution declaring parts of the zoning ordinance invalid. Supervisors decided Oct. 23 that the ordinance did not adequately provide for impoundments and other storage facilities used in connection with oil and gas wells.

Gallagher said the township should let the curative amendment expire because the company does not believe the previous ordinance pertaining to impoundments was invalid.

“We will not go forward with any water storage if you table this,” Gallagher told supervisors before a vote was taken. “We can work together and arrive at a balanced piece of legislation that actually takes into account Range’s operations and also protects the public and accomplishes the township’s goal.” Some said they thought parts of the proposed amendment were not restrictive enough. Backus said he thinks the setback requirement mandating that the distance from a water storage facility to a residential property should be increased from 250 feet to 1,000 feet. Jane Worthington, of Hickory, said she thought a 600-foot buffer would be more appropriate. She also said the amendment should include a provision making a distinction between wastewater and fresh water impoundments. “We have impoundments here in this township that were fresh water impoundments that have been turned into – (Range’s) Carter (impoundment) in particular – a wastewater impoundment,” Worthington said. “We have no accountability on that, and we have no way that we knew that happened until it did happen.” Community planner John Trant Jr., who helped draft the amendment, said the township doesn’t have the authority to regulate or restrict the type of liquid stored in any impoundment or water storage facility.

Worthington called upon supervisors to have an open discussion with Range to resolve any issues in the proposed amendment. “I just want public safety to be upheld,” she said. “I want this township to become a more peaceful place to live. I think Range is asking us to come to the table with them, and I’d like to see us do that.”

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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