Public pushes back on gas drilling near Deer Lakes Park

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Most of the Allegheny County residents who turned out for a council meeting Tuesday night voiced their opposition to the county's plan to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park.

The message for the 15 members of council: Vote no to fracking.

"Please do not allow our parks to be fracked. They are much too valuable," said Stephanie Ulmer of Edgewood.

"I don't think that it's worth it, and I really hope you don't do it," said Evan Selnekovic of Verona.

The proposal calls for the county to enter a lease with Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill for natural gas beneath the park. No drilling would take place on the surface of the park, which covers 1,180 acres in Frazer and West Deer, but rather on private property around the park.

The lease would yield a $4.7 million bonus and $3 million for parks improvements, plus 18 percent in royalties.

Council will have to vote on whether or not to allow fracking beneath the park, and although it heard Tuesday night from a few people in favor of the plan, they heard from many who said they were strongly against it.

Many of the residents, wearing the green scarves now a familiar sight at county meetings, have been sending council the same message for months. But Tuesday night was the first time the drilling topic had made it to council's agenda, and a total of 59 people signed up to speak.

Patricia Carpenter of Squirrel Hill told council members that the Pittsburgh region has been "short-sighted" in the past regarding effects of industry.

Regarding fracking, she said, “There is so much we do not know.”

Many speakers spoke of concerns about environmental impacts and the precedent the proposal could set for other parks.

"If Deer Lakes Park goes, all parks go," said Ted Popovich, a Ben Avon resident.

Chelsa Wagner, the county controller who was at the meeting to speak about a life insurance issue for county retirees, said she was “firmly against” the drilling plan.

Other speakers, including Aaron Booz of Whitehall, said they were concerned about the wording of the ordinance before council about the drilling plan. Mr. Booz said it was "really just a blank check" to the county executive for drilling operations under the park.

Councilwoman Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, suggested council hire an independent attorney to review the lease, a proposal that had some traction with other council members.

"This is a complicated lease. Lots of us have questions about it," said councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon.

No decision was made during the meeting; the motion will be discussed in committee.

Tuesday's meeting was held a week after county Executive Rich Fitzgerald hosted a public meeting in West Deer about the drilling plan.

A public hearing on the plan is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday in the County Courthouse's Gold Room.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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