Allegheny County Council debates parks drilling

Fitzgerald says he will veto councilwoman's proposal for 3-year ban

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If you blinked, you would have missed the most important part.

Tuesday's Allegheny County Council meeting ran for three hours, with testimony from dozens of speakers, squabbling between lawmakers over procedure and a bizarre back-and-forth on Obamacare.

By contrast, the reading of council member Barbara Daly Danko's proposal took about half a minute, as the Democrat from Regent Square officially submitted legislation banning natural gas drilling in county parks for three years.

Because it's a new bill and will be assigned to a committee for full discussion, Ms. Danko kept her comments brief, appealing to her colleagues that they, not Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, decide what happens on public lands.

"Up to this point, county council, let alone the community at large, has not had a discussion about whether we want drilling in county parks," she said. "It is clear to me, based on his own statements, that the county executive is negotiating -- no one on council has been party to those discussions."

More than three dozen people signed up to speak in her favor.

"I applaud Councilwoman Danko's courage," said Thaddeus Popovich of Ben Avon. "You are setting an example of stewardship that I believe all council members swore an oath to uphold."

Ms. Danko's proposal would bar natural gas drilling on county parkland until 2017, when she hopes the legal questions regarding Act 13 and regulatory oversight will be answered. That could derail Mr. Fitzgerald's plans to drill at Deer Lakes Park, where energy company Range Resources has leased much of the surrounding property.

The councilwoman, despite voting against the majority regarding drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport, maintains she is not anti-Marcellus Shale; she says she simply wants a more deliberative process.

Mr. Fitzgerald, who has spearheaded the plans to drill at Deer Lakes, says he'll veto her bill if passed by council.

Her colleagues mostly stayed mum on the proposal, with the sole question coming from council member Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, who wants the county solicitor to verify the county holds the mineral rights to Deer Lakes Park.

But others on council had plenty to say -- about the crush of residents signing up to speak. Each member of the public gets three minutes at the podium. County council members, used to breezing out of meetings by 6:30 p.m., had to stay past 8:30 Tuesday night.

Council members Matt Drozd, R-Ross, and Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, spent a chunk of Tuesday's meeting pulling their colleagues aside to see if there was support to limit public comment.

Not from council President Charles Martoni, who says he's perfectly content to sit all night until the public has had its say.

"Everyone's afraid of public comment," he said. "I'm not."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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