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Group files appeal against township

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 11:56 p.m.

Another lawsuit was filed Wednesday in connection with Amerikohl Mining Inc.'s plan to surface mine coal in Ligonier Township.

This time, the Concerned Citizens of Ligonier Township has filed an appeal against the township -- its former ally -- in efforts to control the Butler County-based mining company's plan to operate near Darlington.

The citizens group is now asking Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court to vacate a recent township resolution approving an agreement with Amerikohl.

Supervisors negotiated a compromise with the mining company last month after a previous court ruling stripped the township of all control over Amerikohl's plan to mine a 71-acre tract off Youngstown Ridge Road.

Amerikohl had appealed 11 of the 32 conditions that supervisors attached to a conditional-use permit granted for the project last year. That appeal was upheld by President Judge Daniel J. Ackerman, who vacated all of the conditions in January.

Supervisors then met with mining company officials and agreed to a new set of 14 terms to regulate the mining operation. That agreement was formalized in a resolution adopted on Feb. 15.

Supervisor Keith Whipkey said at that time the deal was "the best we could do. With the court ruling, Amerikohl was under no obligation to do anything."

But the citizens group is now asking the court to vacate that resolution and direct the township to advertise and convene a public hearing on the supervisors' decision to adopt that settlement.

The appeal alleges the resolution was adopted without public notice and hearing, as required by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, and also is not consistent with the township's previous resolution -- the one that was vacated by Ackerman.

The citizens group also filed a notice of appeal with Commonwealth Court concerning Ackerman's ruling.

Attorney Donald J. Balsley Jr., of Pittsburgh, who filed the appeals on behalf of the concerned citizens, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Darlington resident Rose Stepnick, a spokeswoman for the group, also was unavailable.

Ligonier Township officials, who were not yet aware of yesterday's filing, said it came as something of a surprise.

"It's news to me," Whipkey said.

While he surmised from a description of the civil lawsuit that "they seem to be confusing the requirements for adopting a resolution with those for an ordinance," Whipkey declined further comment on the pending litigation.

Township Solicitor Judith Ciszek had a similar response.

"I have not yet seen it, so I really can't comment on it at this time," Ciszek said.

"It's their prerogative," she added. "But I think the whole thing is really sad. We'll just have to see how it plays out."

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