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Unanimous vote completes shuffling of Westmoreland municipal authority board

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County board members hired a new lawyer on Wednesday, completing a shake-up of the utility's administration.

Jeannette attorney Scott Avolio was the unanimous pick of the board to replace solicitor Ken Burkley, who was fired Wednesday after serving more than 11 years for the authority.

Avolio, who has a private law practice and works as the solicitor for the city of Jeannette, was one of six lawyers interviewed Wednesday for the position.

“It is a very successful organization and I look forward to working with it. I'm honored to be selected,” Avolio said.

Avolio will earn $120,000 a year in his new job with the authority. He is expected to receive an additional wage for work on the authority's $140 million bond issue for capital improvements, which is expected to be completed later this year.

Authority boardChairman Randy Roadman said Avolio, along with most of the other solicitor candidates, were recommended by Republican county Commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney.

Anderson and Courtney have reshaped the authority since they assumed the majority on the board of commissioners last year.

Roadman said Avolio's political connections did not factor into his hiring. Avolio serves as the vice chairman for the county's GOP committee.

“His experience in municipal work made him stand out,” Roadman said.

Burkley is a former chairman of the county's Democratic committee and supported Democratic candidates against Anderson and Courtney.

Avolio said he would continue to work as Jeannette's solicitor, but will discontinue his campaign for Common Pleas Court judge in Westmoreland County.

Also on Wednesday, the authority board approved an extension to a contract with a gas well drilling company that officials said could generate nearly $20 million in new revenue for the utility over the next seven years.

The deal with Triana Energy will enable the company to drill up to nine wells on 1,600 acres of authority land in Springfield Township, Fayette County.

Marathon Oil in 2008 paid the authority $6.2 million to drill on that property, but to date only two deep wells have been completed. Neither are producing gas, according to authority manager Chris Kerr.

Marathon is pulling its operations off the authority's land and Triana is expected take over the drilling operations, Kerr said.

The lease extension will give the company the right to continue drilling up to nine wells through 2020. The authority will receive royalties on the gas produced at that location.

“I think it's a very good deal for the authority,” Kerr said.

Marcellus shale deep wells are currently being drilled on authority property at Beaver Run Reservoir in the northern end of Westmoreland County.

Those wells produced more than $2 million in revenue for the authority last year.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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