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Cecil Township Investigating Legal Challenge to Act 13

Elected officials in Cecil Township, PA, voted Monday to have the township solicitor look into mounting a legal challenge to Pennsylvania's new Marcellus Shale law on the grounds that it usurps local zoning authority.

After a raucous, hour-long meeting with residents to discuss Act 13 of 2012 (formerly HB 1950), the Cecil Township Board of Supervisors held its regularly scheduled monthly meeting and ultimately voted 4-1 to have solicitor John Smith investigate a legal challenge to the state law.

"There are so many things about that bill that are outrageous," Andrew Schrader, the board's vice chairman, told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "We felt that [the state] took away our zoning rights for one industry. As a supervisor, you look at your community and you have a comprehensive plan in your mind for the next five or 10 years. But without any local control, all of your planning for the future is thrown out the window."

Schrader, who introduced the motion to look into the legal challenge, said representatives from Cecil and neighboring Mount Pleasant, Peters and Robinson townships -- which are all municipalities in Washington County -- met with state legislators in Harrisburg before HB 1950 was passed to voice their concerns about the measure.

"When we went to Harrisburg, we were trying to give some common sense ideas that would not only allow the drilling but would give some protection to the residents," Schrader said. "That's the happy medium that we should be trying to reach. There are some people who are going to make good money on leasing their land and getting royalties. You've got to protect them at the same time that you have to protect the rest of your residents."

Act 13 became law after being signed by Gov. Tom Corbett on Feb. 13 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15). Schrader said Cecil and the other townships were very upset about the setback requirements permitted by the state.

"We weren't against drilling, we were just saying that if you put [additional protections] into this bill, we can make it work for everybody in the communities," Schrader said. "This bill took away our local zoning powers and didn't give us the opportunity to have some reasonable setbacks.

"You need your local zoning laws. When you do it on a statewide level, they don't realize the things that local officials do."

Elizabeth Cowden, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the issue, said a legal challenge by the township would be unsuccessful.

"I always have and always will support safe, responsible drilling," Cowden told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "Our county has been sorely economically depressed over the years. This has been a windfall, not only for our country but for our county and our municipality. We're now the eighth-fastest growing county in the United States. This is without question because of the Marcellus Shale."

Asked if he thought the township would have legal grounds to challenge Act 13 and whether that challenge would be successful, Schrader said, "There are times when the legislature passes things that overreach their bounds for some legal reason. That's what we're thinking. We always have had control over how we develop our community through zoning, and we need to retain that ability to do it at the local level." He added that Mount Pleasant, Peters and Robinson townships may join Cecil Township in the legal challenge.

Cecil Township is still apparently the target of a lawsuit filed last fall by Range Resources Corp. (see Shale Daily, Dec. 9, 2011; Oct. 19, 2011). Range accused the township of violating two state laws by failing to advertise a public hearing on ordinance changes. The township responded by going through the process a second time with proper advertising.

"Range Resources has not responded to correspondence from our solicitor," Township Manager Donald Gennuso told NGI's Shale Daily. "We were hoping they would respond, being that they would probably be able to jump on Act 13, but we have had no comment from them, no response back. I don't know where we go from here."

Kenneth Komorowski, an attorney with the Pittsburgh branch of law firm Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, which is representing Range, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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