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County Council Gets Look At Proposal To Drill In Deer Lakes Park

TARENTUM (KDKA) -- Allegheny County Council is getting its first look today at a drilling agreement that would allow Range Resources to drill for natural gas below Deer Lakes Park in West Deer Township.

However, the plan has its critics.

Stocked with perch, sunfish, bluegills and trout, the trio of lakes are all spring-fed by a watershed leading from one to the next. It's a destination for fishermen.

"This is where we come, and you know, bring our children, and people from all over, from all over Allegheny County," said Natalie Haushalter, a nearby resident.

The horizontal drilling would go under Deer Lakes Park. The well heads would be on private property, already leased. Nothing is to be visible in the park.

The five-year lease between Allegheny County and Range Resources, if approved, will bring an upfront bonus of $4,000 per acre of park land.

That means the 1,180-acres would result in $4.7 million for county coffers.

Deer Lakes could use some help. Picnic shelters and playgrounds need to be upgraded and there are no public restrooms.

Also, as part of the deal, the county would get 18 percent of the royalties of gas and oil extracted, adding up to an estimated $3 million a year.

"By entering into this lease, we're going to be improving the environment for the folks in the community," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

With what he knows now, Nick Ginter - who was going to feed the ducks on Tuesday with his daughter, Sydney - is not a fan of the plan.

"You can't just think they're doing a big project like that isn't going to have some sort of major impact," said Ginter.

But Fitzgerald points out that even if County Council votes down the proposal, drilling will go forward on private property.

Allegheny County Council is just getting a first briefing. They will then send the proposal to a committee for review.

The 15 members of Allegheny County Council and dozens of residents knew they were going to hear Fitzgerald outline the drilling proposal with Range Resources. However, they weren't expecting him to lobby for further action.

But when Fitzgerald spoke at the council meeting Tuesday night, he did ask the council president if he could take his briefing one step further.

"We have the legislation tonight," he said. "I was going to ask the president if we could place this on the agenda this evening."

But the answer was no.

"Virtually everyone we talk to knows this is a bad idea and their viewpoints can't be bought by money," said one critic who spoke during the public comment period.

The horizontal drilling would happen deep beneath the surface - with well pads on private property, but critics still have serious environmental and health concerns

"I've seen ramifications of toxins in our environment. Have you been to a cancer center lately?" questioned Carrie White.

Terri Supowitz added, "You could stop the drilling in Allegheny County. That would be the most fabulous thing you would ever do in your whole life. Everybody in the state would be looking at you."

Supowitz's comments brought applause from the audience in the Gold Room.

Before any vote, council wants to make sure detractors and supporters have a roll in the process.

Council Member At-Large Heather Heidelbaugh told Fitzgerald, "For us to be able to talk to them (the public), for us to talk to Range Resources. So whatever the vote, everyone feels at least that they at least had respect and were fully heard."

Fitzgerald replied, "I fully intend to hear that and respect all voices that come through."

Public discussion is scheduled for April 2 at Deer Lakes High School. And a vote might not come until May.

More Tarentum News
Mars Area Parents Mobilizing Against Drilling Under School District Property (3/7/14)
More Reports by Mary Robb Jackson

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