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Murrysville ordinance would pave way for referendum petition

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 12:39 p.m.

By mid-April, Murrysville residents likely will be able to begin circulating a petition to force referendum vote on leasing the gas rights under Murrysville Community Park.

Council voted last week to advertise an ordinance that would put those rights out to public bid. Once that ordinance is adopted — a vote is set for mid-April — residents can begin collecting signatures on a petition to create a referendum question regarding potential leases on the November ballot.

“(Residents) can't start getting signatures until after we approve the ordinance,” Councilman Dave Perry said. “We want a citizen's group to run with this right now to start education and start getting prepared. We want to give as much notice as possible — we don't want anyone to be surprised on this.”

The ordinance directs Chief Administrator Jim Morrison to solicit bids for the gas rights under 260-acres of the park, which is located along Wiestertown Road.

Officials last month said Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley offered $2,250 per acre for the right to drill under the park plus 12.5 percent of the royalties garnered from selling any gas from the property. The company has acquired hundreds of acres of property near the park, which is in the municipal drilling district.

Under the municipal home rule charter, residents are permitted to circulate a petition regarding any ordinance that council enacts, said Solicitor George Kotjarapoglus. Council can review that petition and change its mind on the ordinance, or the petition can be submitted to the county to place a referendum question on the November ballot, he said.

The municipality isn't permitted to take the lead on any referendum, Kotjarapoglus said. However, officials can offer education on the issue.

Morrison said he plans to do just that but isn't sure of the best way. Resident Linda Marts agreed.

“I feel that the majority of the citizens of Murrysville have no clue what this really would entail,” said Marts, who has expressed interest in circulating a petition. “We have a lot of young families with busy kids in all kinds of activities. I don't think they see the big picture. I think there's a large portion of people who think that it's all about the money.”

Marts suggested the municipality organize several buses to take residents to Washington County to see Marcellus shale drilling in person. She urged officials to not be intimidated by drillers.

“I want you all to be brave and not be afraid to be challenged by the gas and oil industry,” Marts said.

Morrison said one problem is that people don't understand that it isn't a question of permitting drilling, but whether the park will be involved.

“This isn't a drilling issue as much as it is a leasing issue,” Morrison said. “As much as it may be distasteful to people, the reality is that drilling is going to occur some time, somewhere in Murrysville.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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