Paying their way?
Municipal officials say they have found ways to work around what they say are inadequate road bonding amounts.
But the rising cost of road material and increased natural-gas drilling activity have created renewed interest in pushing the state to increase the bonds, meant to ensure that private companies repair the roads they use during activity in the area.
“I've been asking the state to increase the amounts for the past 15 years,” said Lori Ziencik, chairwoman of Frazer supervisors. “I don't know what the holdup is. I see no reason why they're not doing it.”
Road bond amounts — set in 1978 — are $6,000 per mile for unpaved roads and $12,500 per mile for paved roads.
“That doesn't even cover a quarter of a mile,” said Buffalo Township Supervisor John Haven.
It costs about $120,000 to pave a mile of road, officials said.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors has been working to get legislation sponsored to increase road bond amounts, said Assistant Executive Director Elam Herr.
House and Senate bills introduced in 2009 did not make it out of the transportation committee.
“We have a resolution that's been on the books for years and we have been talking both with legislators and PennDOT about increasing the rates,” Herr said. “Hopefully, something will be put in place after this session.”
Most commonly, roads are bonded by a company doing work that requires heavy trucks to use municipal, county or state roadways.
Once the company repairs any damage that occurs from its activity, the bond is released.
If a company doesn't fix the road, the bond amount goes to the municipality to cover repairs.
While work such as timbering or mining can lead to heavy truck traffic on rural roads, the increase in both conventional and horizontal drilling in the natural-gas rich Marcellus shale play has led to additional truck traffic, officials said.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said its members recognize the impact operations can have on communities.
“Our member companies have invested more than ($500 million) to repair and rebuild roads,” coalition president Kathryn Klaber said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, more than half of the recently disbursed $204 million in natural gas impact fee revenues were directed to local governments.”
Officials say the Act 13 Marcellus shale impact fee money, which is distributed to municipalities based on the number of wells in their community, doesn't cover the full cost of paving a road in the 21st century.
For example, Buffalo Township received about $59,000 and Gilpin Township received about $21,600.
“Sometimes roads aren't in that good of shape to begin with,” said Gilpin Township Supervisor Michael Steimer. “We probably have at least $1 million worth of paving that needs to be done.”
Gilpin's annual budget is about $800,000.
“Most townships have a tight budget and if all of a sudden someone tears up a mile of road, we don't have the money,” Steimer said. “Some companies work more with you than others.”
In some cases, township officials said they enforce road bonds as the damage occurs.
South Buffalo Township Supervisor Terry Van Dyke said his township has had success with that method.
“What you have to do is keep on your toes and not let it get to the point where it's impassable for the public,” he said. “If it gets to the point where they've exceeded $12,500, you get with the company and get it fixed. Then we can start another $12,500 bond.”
Officials in Buffalo and Frazer townships, where Marcellus shale drilling activity is also under way, negotiated excess road maintenance agreements. They bond roads for an amount beyond the state requirement and ensure the drilling company restores the roadway back to its original condition.
“We never tried to negotiate one prior to Marcellus wells,” said Ziencik, of Frazer, where Range Resources is drilling wells off Bakerstown Road. “Their operation is such a large capacity, and we knew with this many trucks and the equipment, that this was a no-brainer.”
In Lower Burrell, Penneco Oil, of Delmont, had a drilling company drill oil wells along McAlister Drive and Hartge Road. But beforehand, Penneco widened, paved and improved drainage on about a quarter mile of McAlister, off Route 780.
City and Penneco officials negotiated an agreement to bond McAlister for $25,000.
“It's based on the worst-case scenario of having to redo the road in that area,” said Lower Burrell road foreman Scott Johnson.
Penneco Senior Vice President Marc Jacobs said the company doesn't normally upgrade a road before drilling.
They did so for two reasons: Lower Burrell had intended to improve the road, and the company was drilling two oil wells off the same well pad and the expense of fixing the road seemed justified, he said.
Penneco's general policy is to return roads to the same condition they were originally.
“We're a family business that's been in the area drilling wells since the early '80s,” Jacobs said. “So it's not like we're in and drilling a few wells and leaving. Our reputation is very important to us.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Valley reaches out to brighten East Deer cancer patient’s holiday
- Harmar to consider offer to drill under township land
- New Kensington-Arnold confronts ‘frightening’ budget situation
- Generous Leechburg boy receives Christmas surprise from secret Santa
- Hays ‘eagle cams’ reinstalled for 2015 nesting season
- Arnold Stop-n-Go robbed
- Valley choir ‘shows’ off at Mills mall
- Monroeville man charged with bad-check racket
- Bed and breakfast proposed at former Liperote Mansion in South Buffalo Township
- Man shot in New Kensington
- Shooting victim identified by New Kensington police as man hit in summer