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Group asks for delay in solicitation of lease bids

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A group of Murrysville residents want municipal officials to delay any decisions on soliciting bids for or leasing the gas rights under Murrysville Community Park until the municipal drilling ordinance has been revised.

Council is poised to vote Wednesday to begin soliciting bids to lease the gas rights under the 262-acre park. Several residents — including members of Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murrysville, or CPRM — have agreed to circulate a petition to place a referendum question on the November ballot. The question would advise council on whether voters want the gas rights leased.

Some petition organizers think municipal officials are putting the cart before the horse.

“The proposed referendum is premature,” said Alyson Holt, a Murrysville resident who has organized a Facebook page to start dialogue for the petition. “Soliciting citizens' opinions might be the right course to take in the future, a prudent, wise course to take.”

Linda Marts, a member of CPRM, said officials need to consider that the current drilling ordinance could get the municipality sued. Marts said the drilling district — a portion of the municipality where surface drilling is permitted — that was created by the ordinance violates residents' rights.

“It's both unconstitutional and unlikely to withstand a challenge in court,” Marts said. “Expert attorneys could come up with new way of writing the ordinance both legally and flexible enough to allow Murrysville more oversight.”

A municipal task force is reviewing the drilling ordinance in light of last year's state Supreme Court ruling on the state oil and gas law. Marts suggested that municipal officials also hire an attorney to advise the task force.

She said she would like the municipality to require 2,000 feet of space between a drilling operation and any park land.

That's not enough for Sarah Schaut, who moved to Murrysville five years ago from Fox Chapel. A mother of three, she said if she now were a prospective homebuyer, she wouldn't consider buying in Murrysville because of Marcellus shale drilling.

“If I were in the same situation of searching for home in the Pittsburgh area now, I would be very hesitant to buy in a community that allows or is in process of allowing hydraulic fracking,” Schaut said. “Please take a stand and support the community and its future residents by not leasing Murrysville Community Park's gas rights.”

Though council is set to vote Wednesday on the ordinance, officials have said there will be no decision on leasing the park's rights until late this year or early in 2015. Instead, officials will focus on educating residents on what drilling ensues.

Officials will host an information session April 29 at 7 p.m. at the municipal building featuring speakers from the Center for Sustainable Shale Development; the Marcellus Shale Coalition; and John Kamin, a land-use attorney involved in the lawsuit over the state oil and gas law.

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

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