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Marcellus shale impact fees in Norwin area different than originally expected

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:55 p.m.

A corrected calculation means North Huntingdon will get $4,435 less in Marcellus shale impact fees but results in more money for Irwin and North Irwin.

Initially, the Public Utilities Commission reported North Huntingdon would receive $83,440 in impact fees next year, but the most recent figures from the PUC show the township is scheduled to receive $79,005.

The PUC's web site shows Irwin is scheduled to receive $9,880, and North Irwin is schedule to receive $2,118 in impact fees, which is an increase of $5,015 and $1,075, respectively.

Irwin manager Mary Benko said the borough is pleased with the increase in impact fees.

“It's great news for the borough, and we'll make sure the money is spent wisely,” Benko said. “It will have a positive impact in our budget.”

North Irwin council president Kim Macalus echoed Benko's sentiments.

“It's awesome news, and we should be able to fulfill all the needs in our budget,” Macalus said.

According to Act 13, the state legislation regulating drilling and gas wells, the impact-fee money can be used only for water, wastewater and road infrastructure maintenance and improvements; emergency preparedness; environmental programs; tax reductions; increased safe and affordable housing; employee training; or planning initiatives.

State officials have not contacted North Huntingdon officials with a revised schedule of impact fees, township manager John Shepherd said.

“We don't believe it will have a significant impact on the 2013 budget, but we need to wait until we receive more information from the state,” he said.

The township has no Marcellus shale gas wells, although a company began preparing and excavating a site on a small farm, off of Clay Pike, near Farview Drive, within the last couple of years. The company, which Turley did not identify, never finished excavation nor conducted any drilling.

There currently are 159 Marcellus shale wells in Westmoreland County, according to the PUC.

The closest Marcellus shale wells are in Sewickley Township and Hempfield Township, which have 13 and six wells, respectively.

The miscalculation will affect less than half of 1 percent of the $204.4 million disbursement statewide, according to the PUC.

The corrected calculation isn't the only issue township officials have with Act 13.

When state officials passed Act 13, the PUC mandated communities with drilling ordinances conform to the act's requirements. Those who didn't modify their ordinances wouldn't be eligible to receive impact fees, according to the Act.

Last month, the state Commonwealth Court ruled the PUC could not withhold a municipality's share of the impact fees for failure to conform with Act 13.

“This ruling is a major conflict with Act 13 since it said we wouldn't get impact fees without conforming,” Turley said. “It was the hammer they held over our head, but the ruling means we'll get impact fees, regardless.”

North Huntingdon commissioners enacted the township's natural gas and drilling ordinance in June 2011.

The township gave up its plans to modify its gas and drilling ordinance after the state Commonwealth Court declared portions of Act 13 unconstitutional in July.

The act dictated what municipal officials could and could not regulate with natural gas and well drilling.

Officials of several communities challenged the act in court and said it stripped municipalities' rights to control drilling through zoning regulations. Commonwealth Court sided with the municipalities.

The state Supreme Court currently is considering Act 13.

Turley described Act 13 as “a work in progress.”

“We have our current ordinance in place, and a revised version of it to address the requirements of Act 13,” Turley said.

“We're ready to go if we have to be in full compliance, but I wouldn't be surprised if the state took up Act 13 again and worked toward setting standards across the state on a local level.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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