Public gets chance tonight to speak out on drilling at Deer Lakes Park

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A public hearing regarding the leasing of land beneath Deer Lakes Park for natural gas development will be held tonight in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown.

Council staff said 104 people have signed up to speak at the meeting.

The purpose of the hearing is to allow for public comment regarding an ordinance that members of County Council are considering. The ordinance authorizes the leasing of mineral interests beneath Deer Lakes Park, a 1,180-acre space in West Deer and Frazer, provided that no drilling takes place on the surface of the park.

Council Vice President Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont and chair of the county's parks department, will preside over the hearing.

The plan involving Deer Lakes Park has been the topic of frequent public comment since well before Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced an agreement the county had reached with companies Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley last month.

That agreement involves a proposed lease that Mr. Fitzgerald has touted as the "most comprehensive non-surface lease" in Pennsylvania, due to enhancements including expansion of water-testing requirements and requirements regarding repairs to county roads, among others.

The lease would yield the county a $4.7 million bonus payment, another $3 million toward a parks improvement fund, and 18 percent in royalties.

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

The plan has been the subject of many hours of public comment in recent weeks.

Mr. Fitzgerald, and others who agree with him, have said the plan will add protections for drilling operations that are happening anyway in the area. Many opponents have said county parks should not be involved in industrial activities such as natural gas drilling.

Nearly 60 people signed up to speak at last week's county council meeting, when the ordinance first made it to the council's agenda. The week before that, about 75 people signed up to speak at a meeting hosted by Mr. Fitzgerald regarding the Deer Lakes plan in West Deer.

Those who cannot attend tonight's council meeting will still have a chance to weigh in. County council is accepting written testimony through 5 p.m. Friday.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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