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Connoquenessing residents claim drilling contaminated their wells

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:53 p.m.

The Butler County Housing and Redevelopment Authority could provide some desperately needed relief to residents of the Woodlands neighborhood in Connoquenessing who claim that nearby Marcellus shale drilling has contaminated their well water.

The authority expects to spend $125,000 to install cisterns for eligible homeowners. The underground tanks could hold between 500 and 1,000 gallons of water.

“We're not concerned about why this has happened,” said Perry O'Malley, the authority's executive director. “We just felt there were low-income families that don't have water and they don't have anywhere to go and no resources.”

“It gives me some hope,” said Dawn Runyan, 43, who owns a trailer in Woodlands. “It makes me feel like I didn't spend the last 20 years of my life throwing money at a worthless piece of property.”

She said her son, daughter-in-law and their 1-year-old daughter had been living in the trailer under a rent-to-own agreement, but had to leave because of the water problems and now live with her in New Galilee, Beaver County.

More than 1,250 people have signed an online petition demanding that state and local officials use $1.1 million in Marcellus shale impact fees to connect affected residences to a public water line. Some residents claim their wells became contaminated after drilling started in the area.

The state Department of Environmental Protection hasn't linked the water problems with the drilling, and drilling companies have denied they are at fault. Commission Chairman Bill McCarrier said he didn't believe it was proper to use the impact fees to help if the DEP couldn't connect the problems to the drilling.

A church-supported charity, Water for Woodlands, provides more than 30 families with drinking water, which they pick up at the White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church, a few miles from the Woodlands development.

O'Malley said his agency's mission is to help families.

After realizing that connecting to public water supplies “is not an option in the near future,” he said John Stokes, a senior inspector for the authority, brought up the cistern idea.

County commissioners recently approved use of the money through fees collected by the recorder of deeds office, O'Malley said.

The agency will send out notices about the program to Woodlands residences, some 200 in all. Priority will be given to the elderly, disabled and families with children, and those with moderate to low incomes.

Residents must own their home and provide proof of their income.

O'Malley said that from the time homeowners apply it could take about 60 days before crews start digging for the tank. Installation could cost about $5,000 for each tank.

Residents will be responsible for filling the tank. The water could be used for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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