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Allegheny County panel to study drilling referendum

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

Allegheny County Council on Tuesday sent a proposal to put drilling under county parks on the ballot to the government reform committee for study.

“I believe the people have the right to weigh in on very major issues that affect them,” said Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, who wants a referendum on the issue placed on the May 17 primary ballot. “What referendums do is they not only give everyone a voice, but they also air out the issue.”

County officials are weighing an offer from Huntley & Huntley to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer.

The gas would be accessed from drilling pads outside park property. It could be months before the council considers a proposal for drilling.

Huntley & Huntley wants an answer from the county by year's end.

“I like the idea of referendum. I like the idea that the residents of Allegheny County would have the opportunity to vote on something as crucial and as critical as the fracking that we're talking or that you're talking putting into our county parks,” said Joni Rabinowitz, adding that she had not yet read Drozd's proposal.

Lucas Lyons of Pittsburgh spoke against the referendum and fracking underneath county parks.

Lyons asked the council to make the decision to avoid a popular vote based on emotion and potentially misleading facts.

“We're elected to make tough decisions,” said Councilman James Ellenbogen, D-Banksville. “We're elected to have the guts to do it.”

Councilwomen Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, asked for committee meetings on the issue and an analysis of whether such a question could appear on the ballot.

Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, assured the audience of several opponents to drilling underneath county parks “it's not a done deal.”

“Just rest assured, we are speaking; we are learning; and this is not going to be a rubber stamp legislation,” he said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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