Beaver County farmer says Marcellus compressor threatens farm's future

This week, for the first time this summer, Don and Becky Kretschmann are pulling an early crop of carrots, and will include them in the overflowing boxes of vegetables, fruits and herbs they‘‍ll deliver to the more than 1,000 customers of their Community Supported Agriculture operation 25 miles north of Pittsburgh in Beaver County.

But tonight, at a New Sewickley Township supervisors hearing, they‘‍ll have a tougher pull as they try to uproot a Marcellus Shale gas compressor station proposal by Cardinal Midstream Inc. that they say is threatening the continued operation of their 80-acre organic farm, their way of life and the agricultural nature of their community.

“It’‍s an inappropriate use of agricultural land,” said Mr. Kretschmann of the gas compressor proposed for a hilltop upwind and just 2,000 feet from his farm. “Our zoning ordinance is supposed to ensure compatible uses, but this will allow this pristine rural road and community to be converted for industrial use.

“It turns the zoning ordinance on its head,” he said, “and at the same time, for us, since our calling card is organic produce, introduces a question about that for our customers.”

Cardinal Midstream has applied for a conditional use permit in the municipality‘‍s agricultural zone to build the proposed Pike Compressor Station on Teets Road, a four-compressor operation that will eventually be expanded to eight and will run seven days a week, 24 hours a day, moving gas along pipelines from as many as 80 shale gas wells.

Marc Lyons, president of Cardinal Midstream, said the Dallas-based company has met with township supervisors on a half-dozen occasions and been “methodical and transparent” in choosing the compressor station site and equipment. The station, which will be enclosed in a building to reduce noise, will be the company’‍s first in Pennsylvania.

“We don’‍t think it’s going to impact the residents nearby,” Mr. Lyons said in a phone interview. “We did a thorough investigation of sites in a three-mile radius and this is the best location that meets our needs for a central location and the the requirements of the township’‍s siting ordinance.”

The Kretschmanns started their organic farm 35 years ago and grew the business as a Community Supported Agriculture or “CSA” operation that each week delivers boxes of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, plus a newsletter and recipes, to centralized distribution points, usually the front porches of some of its customers.

There are 35 to 40 CSA farms operating in western Pennsylvania, but the Kretschmann Family Organic Farm is one of the largest and oldest. Mr. Kretschmann has been vocal in his opposition to the location of the compressor station and in an email to his more than 1,000 customers last week urged them to make their opinions known to the township supervisors.

As of Tuesday noon, more than 200 had sent letters or emails to the supervisors opposing the compressor permit, said Walt Beighey, township manager. The hearing tonight is a continuation of the July 2 hearing in which Cardinal representatives testified on noise and aesthetic issues but offered no information on air emissions from the compressor, said Mr. Beighey, adding that the company could do that tonight.

He said the township planning commission has recommended that any permit for a compressor station include conditions limiting noise and requiring improvements to rural roads and intersections that would be used by the estimated six to eight tanker trucks that will haul condensate — water and wet gases — from the facility each day.

But the supervisors can ignore the recommendations. The five supervisors could vote tonight or within the next 45 days, Mr. Beighey said, or could extend the deadline.

Mr. Kretschmann, who talked Monday while he pulled carrots through an old-fashioned, rotating, wood-slatted vegetable washing machine, said he has serious concerns about the compressor station on three levels

“This proposal has the potential of putting one of the few money-making farms possibly out of business,” Mr. Kretschmann said. “My daughter, Anne, who’‍s in her 30s, has indicated she’‍s interested in continuing this farming business, but this uncertainty caused by the compressor station throws that into disarray.

“It’s not an easy thing to walk away from. We’‍ve built up the soil, have an apple orchard, an irrigation system, greenhouses and a solar array that supplies all of the power the farm uses. There’s a whole lot of us invested in it all.”

Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, said he‘‍ll be traveling to New Sewickley for the hearing to support the Kretschmanns, their CSA customers and other farms in the area.

“The debate over the conflict between agriculture and gas production has been intense and talked about significantly in farm communities across the state over the last couple of years,” Mr. Snyder said. “At its heart it’‍s a conflict between subsurface property rights and surface rights, between our immediate energy needs and our long-term food needs.”

He said Marcellus Shale development has put agriculture, still Pennsylvania‘‍s largest industry, at risk, even though many farm families are themselves realizing economic benefits from shale gas leases and royalty payments. He said that over the long term farmland will be more valuable than the gas underneath it.

“The Kretschmann farm is an asset to the community and everyone should stand up and say this is not a place to put one of these compressor operations,” Mr. Snyder said. “These CSA farms serve thousands of people statewide, and I think you‘‍ll see evidence at the hearing that they are community-supported.”

Because of the expected crowd, the location of the hearing, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., has been moved from the township building to the Big Knob Grange, 336 Grange Road, Rochester, PA 15074.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.

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