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Pennsylvania Township Ready to Amend Drilling Ordinance

One of the seven Pennsylvania municipalities that sued over the legality of Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law, is now considering changes to its local drilling ordinance to comply with the measure, a move intended to help it collect more than half a million dollars in impact fee revenue.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), empowered to ensure local drilling ordinances comply with Act 13, ruled that another plaintiff municipality has run afoul of the measure with its ordinance and therefore can't receive its share of impact fee money.

Earlier this year, Mount Pleasant Township, which is in Washington County, joined six other municipalities in their lawsuit against Act 13, arguing that portions of the state law were unconstitutional (see NGI, April 2). An appellate court agreed, but the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which heard the case on Oct. 17 (see NGI, Oct. 22). With the case playing out in court, the PUC announced a bombshell: Mount Pleasant is owed $511,855.78 in impact fee revenue, but is ineligible to receive it because its drilling ordinance is incompatible with Act 13 (Robinson Township et al v. Commonwealth et al., No. 284-MD-2012).

That news apparently spurred Mount Pleasant officials to action.

"Obviously, you don't want to lose that kind of money," said Mount Pleasant Township Supervisor Bryan Smith. "I don't think we would be doing the right thing for the people in our community to lose a half a million dollars. At the same time, I want to make sure it's a safe place for people to live. What good is the money if you're pushing people out because of safety or environmental hazards? It's a fine balancing act, for sure."

Smith said the township board was considering changes to several portions of the township's local drilling ordinance and said the township was still closely watching developments with the state's high court.

The PUC got involved after two Mount Pleasant residents, Tony and Sally Pawlosky, wrote to the agency and made a request for review (RFR) of the township's ordinance on Sept. 8 (see NGI, Sept. 24). But in a letter dated Oct. 17, Tony Pawlosky asked to rescind that request. "Since the filing, I have learned the township is willing to change their stance on drilling operations," Pawlosky wrote. "In short, they have agreed to work with industry to foster a more cooperative atmosphere."

Last year Range Resources Corp. took issue with the township's drilling ordinance, which it said amounted to a conditional use permit. The two sides eventually held mediation talks over the issue (see NGI, April 18, 2011; April 11, 2011).

Earlier this month the PUC said South Fayette Township's drilling ordinance was incompatible with Act 13 and would need to be amended before the municipality, which is in Allegheny County, could collect the $2,731.39 it is owed in impact fee revenue.

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