Another meeting held before Deer Lakes vote

Allegheny County Councilwoman Sue Means said she was "disappointed" by the speaker lineup for the parks committee's discussion of the Deer Lakes Park proposal.

So Thursday night, the Bethel Park Republican held her own meeting in the Downtown Allegheny County Courthouse.

She called on speakers including Susan Packard LeGros, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development; John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research at Duquesne University; and John Smith and Jonathan Kamin, attorneys who represented the municipalities who challenged Pennsylvania's Act 13 law.

It was a panel of speakers far less friendly to natural gas development than council members have heard from at the three parks committee meetings held in the past three weeks.

Those meetings, which covered environmental and safety factors, legal questions and economic factors, included speakers representing parties ranging from Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources and county officials.

The final meeting of the parks committee Wednesday night ended with a vote recommending an amended Deer Lakes drilling ordinance to the full council.

Ms. Means said the purpose of her meeting Thursday was "just to gather information so we can make a more informed decision."

More than 30 members of the public attended, many of them wearing the green scarves that have come to mark the members of the Protect Our Parks group.

Council members Tom Baker, R-Ross, Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, and Ed Kress, R-Shaler, were present for part of the meeting.

Only Ms. Means and Jan Rea, R-McCandless, stayed for the whole session, which lasted more than three hours.

At Thursday's meeting, Mr. Smith said his reading of the lease left him concerned that it did not provide enough protection for the water in the lakes in the park.

Mr. Stolz said council members should think about not just contamination from fracking fluids, but from "pre-existing legacy issues" that fracking could disturb.

The main question council members need to ask is what their obligations are as stewards of the park, Mr. Kamin said. They should also ask whether they have done their "due diligence" in reviewing the proposal.

Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont and chair of the parks committee, said Wednesday he believed his committee had covered the appropriate topics according to the state's oil and gas law. Council President John DeFazio, asked Wednesday night whether council had done its due diligence, said yes.

"My opinion is, we did more than due diligence," he said.

The plan that was unveiled by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald March 17 calls for the county to enter an agreement with Range Resources to drill for natural gas beneath the county-owned park in Frazer and West Deer.

There would be no drilling operations on the surface of the park. Instead, horizontal wells would extend from well pads on private property outside the park.

The deal would yield the county $4.7 million in bonus payments, $3 million in a parks improvement fund and 18 percent in royalties.

Council will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to vote on an ordinance to lease the county's oil and gas rights beneath the park.

Mr. Baker, addressing Ms. LeGros Wednesday night, asked her what she would do.

"If you were us, would you vote yes, no, or amend it?" he asked.

Ms. LeGros said she would leave that decision up to council.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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