Deer Lakes Park boasts $2.2M in upgrades from fracking revenue
Deer Lakes Park is looking pretty spiffy these days, and Allegheny County officials attribute its $2.2 million in improvements to fracking revenue.
Among workers in hard hats, heavy machinery, white pipes and orange fencing, parts of a new green-and-yellow playground stand near the park's entrance.
A nearby lake once covered in lily pads is now clear, and visitors can see clouds and trees reflected in its surface. At another playground, cement masons are hard at work, smoothing down a freshly poured sidewalk with trowels.
“This is nice,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “The kids will have a ball.”
Fitzgerald and other county officials on Thursday toured the park to see what upgrades and improvements have been made there with the funds generated from an off-site shale gas extraction contract with Range Resources.
So far, the park has added 24 benches around two of its three lakes, cleaned up the lake waters to make them more fishable, added bathrooms, upgraded pavilions and made trail improvements.
All $2.2 million-worth was paid for by fracking, Fitzgerald said.
“No taxpayer dollars are going into this,” he said. “It's never happened before. I don't think there's ever been an investment this big, certainly not in the last few years, in any park. For this park to get that much. … This is really going to be — already — going to be fantastic.”
Allegheny County Council approved leasing the oil and gas rights under the park, which straddles Frazer and West Deer, to Range Resources in 2014. The Fort Worth, Texas-based petroleum and natural gas company drilled under the 1,180-acre park from a well pad on private property across the street.
Fitzgerald said previously he does not have plans to allow fracking under the eight other county parks. The county has a fracking deal with another firm at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Range paid the county $4.7 million when the deal was signed. It also agreed to donate $3 million to a Parks Improvement Fund in installments and pay 18 percent in royalties once natural gas production started. The lease will last as long as the well produces.
Gas production began last March, Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said. He said the gas company has since paid the county more than $503,000 in royalties.
Allegheny County Manager William McKain said the royalties will be used for other park projects.
Additional improvements consisted of a new bathroom for the Wagman Observatory, where visitors once used portable outdoor toilets.
Joel Perkovich, a landscape architect with the county Parks Department, called the new playground the “crown jewel” of the improvements.
It will be the largest playground in all of the county's parks and have play equipment for youth ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
Work on it began in September. Crews plan to finish it before Memorial Day.
Crews also got rid of overgrown vegetation and cleaned up the shoreline of a nearby lake. Anglers can now cast a line from new or refurbished fishing platforms scattered around its rim.
Perkovich said crews will replant native species along the shoreline in the spring.
Allegheny County Councilman Ed Kress said area residents have not complained about the drilling, and he hopes the improvements will show that the area has not been forgotten.
“The concern you have with people out in West Deer (is) they feel like they're being neglected,” said Kress, of Shaler. “This is showing that we're not neglecting them.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.