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25 turn out to oppose proposed drilling under Deer Lakes Park

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

Wearing a cardboard sign reading “We Can't Drink $” around her neck, Valeri Jackson told Allegheny County Council members that once water is poisoned, that's it.

“We don't need it,” Jackson, 48, of Stowe told council regarding a proposal to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park in West Deer and Frazer. “The risks are way too great for whatever so-called benefits there are.”

Jackson was one of about 25 residents who signed up to speak on Tuesday to County Council against allowing energy companies Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill under the park. Council will vote on allowing the lease negotiated by the county.

“County residents are against this,” said Aaron Booz, 35, of Whitehall.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced on Monday that the county and the energy companies had reached a proposed agreement on drilling. During his quarterly address on Tuesday, Fitzgerald, a Squirrel Hill Democrat, asked council President John DeFazio if he could bring the proposal to council after his address. DeFazio, D-Shaler, told Fitzgerald it was too late to add the proposal to the agenda and asked him to bring it to council for its first April meeting.

Under the terms of the lease, which Fitzgerald said is not finished, the county would receive $4.7 million upfront plus a $3 million donation to a Parks Improvement Fund and 18 percent royalties throughout the life of the lease. Fitzgerald estimated royalties would amount to about $3 million a year for about 20 years.

The companies agreed to enhanced environmental and safety considerations if the county approves drilling.

Fitzgerald hopes to have a copy of the lease agreement to council in about a week.

“We're lucky to partner with a good quality partner like Range,” Fitzgerald told council during his quarterly address, a statement that elicited laughs and jeers from a crowded chamber of residents opposed to the deal. “If we really care about the environment, we should be part of this.”

Carrie White, 50, of Fawn lives near Deer Lakes Park. She said the money the county would receive would not remedy possible damage from drilling.

“You're not going to be able to fix the problem once it happens,” she said.

Fitzgerald has scheduled a public hearing on drilling under Deer Lakes Park for 7 p.m. April 2 at Deer Lakes High School.

County Council could schedule additional public hearings once it takes up the matter.

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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