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Fracking foes pack zoning discussion in Ligonier Township

| Friday, March 27, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Ron Nordstrom holds a jar of contaminated water in his speech against fracking during a Ligonier Township supervisors and planning commission public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at Ligonier Valley High School.
Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Ron Nordstrom holds a jar of contaminated water in his speech against fracking during a Ligonier Township supervisors and planning commission public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at Ligonier Valley High School.

With the clock ticking down on the time allotted for Ligonier Township supervisors to pass an updated zoning ordinance, many residents spoke up at a public hearing Thursday night to ask them to reconsider proposed changes, particularly those related to unconventional drilling.

Opposition to provisions for unconventional drilling has dominated public comment at township meetings for months, and Thursday's speeches were no different, with many people stressing that the industry is not compatible with the Ligonier Valley.

Of the 123 people in attendance, 48 signed up to speak at the hearing held in the Ligonier Valley High School auditorium, including residents and nonresidents, professors and a medical doctor. The majority of the speakers warned against the potential negative impacts of fracking. They were limited to 10 minutes to speak per person. By 9 p.m., 19 people had spoken.

According to the proposed zoning ordinance and accompanying map, unconventional drilling would be allowed as a conditional use in the agricultural and industrial zoning districts. The majority of the township is designated as agricultural in the proposed map.

Citizens to Preserve Ligonier Valley set up a table with information about the effects of fracking in the auditorium lobby.

Concerns raised at the hearing about fracking ranged from air pollution to water contamination, decreased property values to children's susceptibility to environmental health hazards, exposure to toxic chemicals and the threats fracking could pose to the preservation of the scenic Ligonier Valley.

“Fracking is destructive,” said resident Elizabeth Donohoe.

Solicitor Michael Korns and township manager and zoning officer Terry Carcella have maintained that the old ordinance allowed fracking everywhere in the township, stating that the new ordinance would provide more restrictions on the activity.

Parent and resident Jeremy Dalle-Tezze pointed out an error in the ordinance in the setback from a well site to a protected structure, stating that two distances are listed in the final draft. Advocating for the safety of children in schools, he proposed increasing the setback from schools.

Resident Ron Nordstrom asked the board to reconsider rezoning much of the township to agricultural and to rethink drilling provisions.

Several residents asked when the supervisors would answer their questions or discuss their concerns. Resident John Ritter enumerated about 22 questions he wants answered about fracking in the township.

Some posed concerns about Chairman Wade Thomas potentially having a conflict of interest in voting on the ordinance, as he had an oil and gas lease. On Tuesday, Korns said it is his legal opinion that Thomas would not have a conflict of interest in voting because of the class/subclass exclusion of the Ethics Act, which states that there is no conflict if a public official is voting on a matter that will affect them the same as other township residents as a whole or a subclass they are in. Korns sought an advisory opinion from the State Ethics Commission, but it did not provide a conclusive determination.

Resident Edward Oles asked why advisory opinions weren't sought regarding planning commission chairman Mark Spitzer, who has an oil and gas lease, and planning commission member Ben Faas, who works for the EADS Group. A consultant from the EADS Group, Rick Truscello, prepared the proposed zoning maps.

The supervisors started the curative amendment process in December, declaring its zoning ordinance deficient and starting a 6-month time clock to enact a new ordinance.

Korns has said the earliest the supervisors could vote on the ordinance and map would be at its April meeting.

Resident Carol Darr questioned the “rush to move forward,” stating that residents haven't had enough time to review the proposed ordinance and map.

Darr and several others asked why the board didn't approve supervisor Tim Komar's motion earlier this month to place a moratorium on unconventional gas well drilling until a study could be done to examine the effects of a local gas well on a resident's water well.

Supervisors Paul Knupp and Bruce Robinson did not arrive at the hearing until about 7 p.m. Robinson said he had to chair a meeting of the Adelphoi board, which he said had been scheduled for a year. Knupp, who is manager of the Ligonier Township Municipal Authority board, said he was at Penn State University taking classes for his water and sewer licenses.

The supervisors' next regular meeting will be 7 p.m. April 14.

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or nchynoweth@tribweb.com.

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