South Fayette drilling hearing postponed

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Action on a challenge to South Fayette’s law on Marcellus Shale drilling has been postponed at the township level until attorneys get guidance from state court.

The South Fayette zoning board voted 3-0 on Monday night to postpone a hearing for a challenge by natural gas driller Range Resources-Appalachia LLC and township landowner Cuddy Partners LP.

Attorneys for the driller and the township agreed they want Commonwealth Court to clarify any effects that Act 13, which regulates drilling in the state, may have on the case before a hearing is convened.

Clifford Levine of Pittsburgh firm Cohen & Grigsby said township regulations effectively prohibit drilling by his clients.

Range Resources, of Cecil, and Cuddy Partners — headed by John Alan Kosky, a South Fayette resident and former zoning hearing board chairman — plan to drill on 400 acres bordered by Cecil-Sturgeon Road and Millers Run Road. The property includes the former Campbell Airport site in the Cuddy area of South Fayette.

Zoning board Chairman Michael Iagnemma, along with newly appointed members Renee Bennett and Joseph Gagliardino, approved indefinitely postponing the hearing.

More than 100 people had turned out for the meeting in the South Fayette Middle School auditorium.

“Range Resources has decided to postpone their application,” Mr. Iagnemma said. “So they will have to come before the hearing board again, if they wish to pursue that, and at that point, there will be a time for public comment.”

South Fayette — along with Robinson, Washington County, and other municipalities and individuals — had challenged statewide rules designed to take the place of local zoning.

In December, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared major provisions of the state law unconstitutional, a victory for South Fayette and other plaintiffs wanting to keep zoning control.

The decision also directed Commonwealth Court to review and settle a few other matters related to Act 13, such as a challenge that the state law benefits a single industry.

The state court revisiting Act 13 could be an opportunity for an opinion on the Range Resources/Cuddy Partners issue, Mr. Levine said.

“Whether our situation would be somehow included in that or considered separately by the court is a possibility,” Mr. Levine said.

Township attorney Jonathan Kamin said both parties need to understand the implications of the state law before moving forward.

“I think it makes sense to wait for some clarification on these issues,” he said.

South Fayette’s 2010 ordinance provides for minimum setbacks from buildings and streams.

Surface drilling is banned in areas zoned for homes, school, parks and farms. Drilling is permitted as a conditional use in industrial and commercial areas.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:

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