Drilling OK’d in Braddock’s Trail and Oak Hollow Parks
On Wednesday, February 19, by a vote of five to two, the North Huntingdon Township Board of Commissioners (Westmoreland County) voted to allow drilling under Braddock’s Trail and Oak Hollow parks. The Mountain Watershed Association would like to thank Commissioners Herold and Austin for their votes in opposition to this action. The board’s approval is part of a troubling trend on the part of municipalities to compromise the long-term integrity of their communities for the sake of potential short-term gain—as the lingering effects of fracking are still coming to light.
MWA advocates presented at the meeting as part of our Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project, and in our role as protectors of the Youghiogheny River watershed. MWA focused on reminding the board of its duties to North Huntingdon residents under the Pennsylvania Constitution. As reiterated by the recent PA Supreme Court decision regarding Act 13, municipalities have an affirmative obligation to ensure the protection of their natural resources, and to not infringe the rights of their citizens to clean air and pure water, among other rights. MWA also posed several questions to the board aimed at determining what experts were consulted to ensure the safety and the maintenance of the quality of life of North Huntingdon residents. The responses of the board and Assistant Township Manager Mike Turley indicated a troubling lack of due diligence.
To discuss the legality of a ban on fracking is a red herring…
With regard to their responses, Mr. Turley emphasized the fact that the board could not ban fracking. The disturbing nature of that comment is that it distracts from what was really being discussed—simply whether or not the board should lease township land. To discuss the legality of a ban on fracking is a red herring, and a point not even raised by MWA. Board President Richard Gray added that the township is in a difficult position because everybody around it is leasing lands for drilling. What he did not address was the fact that what other areas are doing does not absolve the township from its constitutional duties. As further support, President Gray stated that if there are any negative effects in the township from drilling that occurs in areas outside of its property, then the township will need funds to mitigate those effects. Those funds, he said, could come from the township’s own drilling. Bewildering logic such as that indicates a serious lack of consideration of the situation. Furthermore, the board did not indicate that it consulted with any experts, such as a hydrologist and industrial hygienist, to ensure the safety of residents. The unsatisfactory responses received follows with a general lack of transparency of the entire leasing process.
A public dialogue did not begin until a meeting on December 12, 2013, with a vote held a mere two months later. That short window is telling in light of the fact that the board began negotiating the lease in May of 2013, according to President Gray. Furthermore, the board never provided the lease to residents for review, public meetings were not adjusted to account for inclement weather, and only one opportunity was given for residents to engage in an actual direct dialogue with the commissioners.
The board’s actions indicate a failure to satisfy its constitutional duties. It is our sincere hope that the well-being of the residents of North Huntingdon is not impacted as a result.