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Murrysville to debate seeking bids for gas rights

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By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

Murrysville Council will consider seeking bids for natural gas rights at the 315-acre Murrysville Community Park.

The move would allow residents to circulate petitions asking for the issue to be put to a vote as a referendum in the November election.

Huntley & Huntley Inc. requested a lease for the municipality's natural gas rights beneath part of Murrysville Community Park, along Wiestertown Road, officials announced at a council meeting on Wednesday.

Council can reject the proposal. Or, inasmuch as the municipality cannot agree to exclusive negotiations with a single company, it could seek competitive bids before granting a lease.

Council members likely will make a decision by April, Murrysville's chief administrator Jim Morrison said.

“It really is council's desire to have the citizens of the community make the decision on this, and the only way that ... can occur is if they would pass an ordinance identifying legislative intent to seek competitive bids for the lease,” he said.

Huntley & Huntley requested deep shale drilling, including Marcellus shale drilling, for 260 acres of the public park, Morrison said. The park is home to several athletic fields and a walking trail.

The company offered to pay $2,250 per acre to access the gas, along with 12 percent royalties. Both figures are low, Morrison said.

Officials are “not going to accept the lease,” he said.

“The leasing of the gas could generate close to a million dollars,” Morrison said. “It is significant sums of money.”

Representatives from Huntley & Huntley did not attend the council meeting.

Council would have to seek authority for a referendum through the county election bureau. If approved, residents could form a “citizens' committee” to collect signatures supporting a referendum, educate the public about the pros and cons, and develop a yes-or-no question for the ballot.

Council leaders are not permitted to develop the referendum, according to state and home rule charters. They can, however, assist a citizens group throughout the process.

Residents may not begin requesting signatures until April 15.

“I think the citizens are the best ones to make the decision: Is it worth doing?” Councilman David Perry said.

About 20 residents listened to council's discussion.

Resident Anita Smolenski questioned the price figures.

“How do you arrive at those numbers? Are we selling our soul for a thousand dollars?” she said. “(There are) a lot of unknowns here.”

As council prepares to educate residents about the topic, Chet Smolenski requested that they figure out costs to infrastructure.

“I don't know why this is a question. This was supposed to be a protected area,” resident Leona Dunnett said. “I understand the draw of the millions of dollars. But do you really want to play soccer or have your kids play soccer downwind of a frack pad?”

Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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