Washington County's Robinson withdraws from Act 13 suit

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Newly seated supervisors in Robinson, Washington County, are making big changes.

Gas drilling supporters Rodger Kendall and Stephen Duran joined the three-member board in January and immediately voted to withdraw the township from a joint lawsuit against Act 13, the state law regulating Marcellus Shale development.

They also plan to revise zoning and drilling regulations that were OK’d by the prior board in December and to revisit a $935,307 contract signed in November for waterline extensions.

“When I campaigned, all the things that people screamed at me about are what we’re trying to address,” Mr. Kendall, board chairman, said after the supervisors’ meeting Monday night.

Mr. Kendall, a leaseholder with natural gas driller Range Resources, and Mr. Duran, whose family members hold a drilling lease, voted Jan. 6 to remove Robinson from the Act 13 lawsuit.

“This township, at one point in time, was working with the gas industry,” Mr. Kendall said Monday. But later, “restrictions were set in a very hindering manner,” he said.

The third supervisor, Mark Brositz, voted against withdrawing from the case.

“You really want to remove yourself from the lawsuit where the PA Supreme Court found … that we were right?” Mr. Brositz asked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Kendall and Mr. Duran, elected in November, replaced Brian Coppola and Terrence Love, who, with Mr. Brositz, had approved measures that the new supervisors now seek to overturn.

Mr. Kendall said he is working on amending the zoning ordinance and map that the previous board adopted in late December.

Supervisors will discuss zoning revisions and hear public comment during special meetings at 6 p.m. Tuesday, next Thursday and Feb. 25 in the municipal building, 8400 Noblestown Road.

Mr. Kendall said the workshops are for people who are unhappy with parts of the zoning law, including items related to natural gas drilling, agricultural areas and the special conservation district.

Last month, the supervisors asked their attorney, Alan Shuckrow, to review the process that had been used to adopt the zoning law.

“The ordinance was validly enacted, procedurally,” Mr. Shuckrow said Monday. “We did not look at the substance of the ordinance because we were not asked to do that.”

Also, the board plans to renegotiate an agreement with Pennsylvania American Water Co. to extend water mains, following a Jan. 20 vote by Mr. Kendall and Mr. Duran to cease contract-related work.

Plans include installation of 7,600 linear feet of 12-inch line on Old Steubenville Pike and 1,000 feet on Natures Way to serve about 15 residents who have well water.

Mr. Duran, the board’s vice chairman, said the project is too expensive for the benefit of too few residents. He did not specify whether he wants to revise or eliminate the contract.

Under the agreement, the water company’s contribution is $158,457, and the township’s share is $776,850, plus any overages.

Robinson paid its entire balance up front, Mr. Shuckrow said, which "was certainly not standard procedure that I’ve seen in construction contracts."

Ford Shankle, a resident of Natures Way, said in a phone interview that his well water is contaminated with E. coli, and his family must purify their water using a process that takes four hours per gallon.

“We badly need the [public] water, and so do the neighbors,” Mr. Shankle said. “So it’s a real problem on this street.”

The board’s move to withdraw from the Act 13 lawsuit — known as Robinson Township et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania et al. — isn’t expected to have much effect on the remainder of the case.

In December, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that major provisions of Act 13 are unconstitutional, providing a win for local zoning control and the plaintiffs, including the Washington County municipalities of Robinson, Peters, Mt. Pleasant and Cecil plus South Fayette in Allegheny County.

Mr. Shuckrow, who was appointed in January to replace attorney John M. Smith as solicitor, said Monday that remaining portions of the case likely will be sent back to Commonwealth Court, at which point Robinson may withdraw.

The case nonetheless would continue to carry Robinson’s name and would move forward with the remaining plaintiffs, he said.

“Whether or not the township is officially a party or not, at this point, after the Supreme Court has ruled, I would characterize [the case withdrawal] as largely a ceremonial policy statement by the majority of the board,” Mr. Shuckrow said.

Last year, Range Resources-Appalachia filed a lawsuit against Robinson for denying its application to drill on 84 acres of Mr. Kendall’s farmland.

In 2012, Mr. Kendall requested that the state Public Utility Commission review Robinson’s gas well regulations and withhold gas well impact fee revenues, as allowed by Act 13.

“I believe that enforcement of the current municipal ordinance has prevented the development of oil and gas from taking place,” Mr. Kendall wrote.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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