Both sides debate drilling at Deer Lakes Park

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Allegheny County residents dominated another meeting of county council Tuesday night as many spoke for and against a plan to drill for natural gas underneath Deer Lakes Park.

More than 40 people spoke, with about equal amounts on both sides of the plan proposed last month by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Many of the speakers, members of Protect Our Parks, have been wearing green scarves to council meetings for months, and on Earth Day the accessory was the same and so was the message.

"Local government doesn't belong in the fracking business because it needs to protect its residents from the fracking business," said John Detwiler of Squirrel Hill.

Michael Simms of Mount Washington asked council members to consider the impact of natural gas development on the environment.

"Do we really want to turn back the clock to a time when the air was unbreathable and the water undrinkable?" he said.

The topic was one that has received many hours of discussion in recent weeks. Mr. Fitzgerald has proposed a non-surface lease for Range Resources to drill for natural gas beneath the park -- 1,180 acres in West Deer and Frazer.

Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley would pay the county a $4.7 million bonus, plus $3 million to a parks improvement fund and 18 percent in royalties.

County council is considering an ordinance to lease the county's mineral rights beneath the park.

Many speakers Tuesday night spoke in favor of the plan.

John Graf, owner of The Priory, said he supported it, citing what he said was an uptick for the hospitality and restaurant industry in recent years.

"A lot of this is due to increased economic activity due to the Marcellus Shale drilling," he said.

State Rep. Bill Kortz, a Dravosburg Democrat, also voiced his support for a lease that he said goes "above and beyond."

Deer Lakes Park will be the subject of another meeting tonight beginning at 5 p.m. in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Councilman Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, chairman of the parks committee, said county emergency services Chief Alvin Henderson will speak, and said there would be a 90-minute presentation by representatives of Range Resources.

Council members also will hear from attorneys about the ordinance and lease proposed by Mr. Fitzgerald -- county solicitor Andrew Szefi, the council's solicitor Jack Cambest, and Beau Beard, an attorney hired by the county to assist in drafting the lease.

Some council members have asked for additional people to be added to the panels, and on Tuesday Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, repeated that request, saying she wanted to hear from "people with all different viewpoints."

Kaitlynn Riely:

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