Just one proposal submitted to drill under Deer Lakes

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald briefed county leaders Wednesday on negotiations to drill beneath Deer Lakes Park, revealing that only one company has submitted a proposal.

County council President Charles Martoni, who attended the meeting, said the executive told assembled council members he had received a single response to the county’s request for proposals to tap natural gas beneath the 1,180-acre park, which were due Oct. 25.

That would be energy giant Range Resources, which has leased much of the land surrounding the park and confirmed Wednesday it submitted a proposal, filed jointly with local firm Huntley & Huntley.

Citing the private nature of the meeting, Mr. Fitzgerald wouldn’t discuss what he told council members. But as promised earlier, he’s looking for their advice as he moves forward with negotiating a lease.

“I wanted to keep council in the loop,” he said. “We get these proposals, we start to negotiate these proposals — I want their input.”

The county executive has pitched drilling beneath Deer Lakes Park as an answer for a park system struggling to maintain its facilities, with well pads generating millions up front in bonuses and perhaps $700,000 a year in royalties. Rigs would not enter the park, with drilling taking place on outside properties and boring horizontally under the ground.

In September, Mr. Fitzgerald released a lengthy request for proposals, which are no longer being accepted. Citing county policy and the need to maintain an advantage at the negotiating table, the administration has declined to disclose how many offers it received or who submitted them.

But the intensity of the public response against the plan — a dedicated group of residents has spoken at every county council meeting since August — has some council members asking to be included on the negotiations.

Mr. Fitzgerald has held fast against that suggestion, saying that negotiations can’t be conducted by 15 people at once.

With that in mind, some took Wednesday’s meetings as an olive branch. Throughout the afternoon, groups of county councilors trudged across the courthouse to meet in Mr. Fitzgerald’s office, staggered at different time slots to avoid violating state transparency laws.

Among those appearing in person were John DeFazio, D-Shaler; Matt Drozd, R-Ross; Jan Rea; R-McCandless; Michael Finnerty, D-Scott; Krista Harris, R-Mt. Lebanon; John Palmiere, D-Baldwin Township; Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin; Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square; and Mr. Martoni.

Mr. Martoni said the county executive did not reveal details about the sole proposal. But Mr. Drozd said administration officials showed the group maps outlining leased land around the park and re-iterated a promise to hold public hearings on the issue.

It was a gesture that pleased Mr. Drozd, who has proposed putting up drilling in county parks to a voter referendum.

“He briefed us, and I give him credit for that,” he said. “That’s the kind of open government I like.”

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.

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