The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 7, 2011

Twp. leaders walk tightrope between business, activists

WATSONTOWN — What began as the presentation of a proposed ordinance to ban natural gas companies and related businesses from Delaware Township devolved into a heated discussion over property owners’ rights and other gas-related issues at the township supervisors meeting Tuesday.

With members of the Warrior Run Residents for Responsible Development group in the audience, Bev Staman asked supervisors to adopt the ordinance, stating that crucial elements of the Marcellus Shale industry “are simply not regulated, and the government at the state level is almost entirely on the side of drillers to get what they want.”

However, after nearly two hours of discussion that became vociferous at times, supervisors Chairman Jon McCormick, Vice Chairman James Ranck and Gary Truckenmiller said they wanted more time to study the ordinance as written and perhaps get information from other townships that have passed similar actions.

William Michael, township secretary and treasurer, suggested waiting until next month’s meeting to decide on a public hearing.

“If you get feedback of concerned citizens, next month is soon enough to decide on a public hearing so everyone can read it and decide,” he said.

This was the Warrior Run Residents for Responsible Development’s second time before the Delaware Township supervisors. At last month’s meeting, the supervisors were given information packets, including the proposed ordinance, for their review.

Ranck said they individually looked it over but by state law, couldn’t discuss the ordinance except at an advertised public meeting.

Shireen Parsons, a community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund of Chambersburg, who is working with Warrior Run on the ordinance, told supervisors the group was asking it to advertise a public hearing on the ordinance to give people opportunity for review and comment.

From there, the meeting became fraught with emotion and opinion.

Lyle Horn, of Watsontown, said he’s concerned of protecting life in the township as well as farms and groundwater. As a Warrior Run school board member, Horn is also concerned of future development of Utica Shale, on which the school district sits.

“We need to take proactive measures to protect the quality of life here,” he said, “or it won’t be worth living here,” telling the supervisors “I do wish you’d give serious thought to a hearing.”

Ranck became blunt with the group, asking it pointedly: “Do you think we are incapable of handling this ourselves as supervisors?”

Citing the many years of experience — and generations of family — of all three supervisors, Ranck said their job is to look at both sides of the issue and that none of them would make decisions or allow any business that would purposefully hurt the township.

“I can’t help but feel you’re pitting me against Moran or the people I work with as a supervisor,” Ranck said. “We are all in the same ballpark here.”

The proposed ordinance calls for a ban of natural-gas drilling companies and support services businesses within Delaware Township, an area about 30 square miles that includes Watsontown, home to Moran Industries.

Moran Industries is a logistics provider with about 350 employees working at about 18 facilities. The Watsontown facility, at the former Masonite plant on Matthew Street, employs about 200.

It is leased by National Oilwell Varco, a Houston-based drilling support company that mixes material into a drilling mud used in the Marcellus Shale region. Also leasing there is MiSwaco, a drilling fluid systems supplier from Houston that services equipment for gas drilling at the site, and also runs cleaning equipment for fluids and pressure-control equipment used on drill sites.

— Email comments to esocha@dailyitem.com

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