They promised they would come, and they did.
Dozens of protesters with pamphlets to spare packed Allegheny County Council's meeting Tuesday night, speaking against the push to drill for natural gas beneath county parks -- a plan that they say betrays the county's commitment to preserve parkland for perpetuity.
While drilling beneath Deer Lakes Park is still far off -- Marcellus Shale wasn't on Tuesday night's rather light meeting agenda-- the protesters said they would rather speak their mind now than wait for the deal to be signed.
"The parks are not to be bought and sold as commodities for profit," said Carrie White, who lives near the park. "Let's look at the ramifications of what's proposed, and who will be held accountable."
It was a raucous crowd by council standards, which usually tends more to golf-clap applause than the hearty whoops of support heard Tuesday night. More than 50 people signed up to speak during the 31/2-hour meeting, though fewer followed through.
Many speakers left reams of paper for council members to read, referencing a dizzying array of scientific studies and journal articles. That was fine by Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, one of the few council members to directly engage the speakers.
"I need more scientific information, not your feelings about how it's going to hurt your experience at the park," she said. "I am listening and I will read everything you send me."
But time might not be on the protesters' side. By the end of the month, the county hopes to release a request for proposals to drill beneath Deer Lakes Park, whose 1,180 acres straddle Frazer and West Deer.
The deal is likely to go to energy giant Range Resources, which has leased most of the surrounding land and has already secured permits for three drilling sites near the park's borders.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says he would like to begin drilling within four to six months, though he made it clear Range isn't rushing him.
"My sense is, they're very flexible," he said. "They understand the sensitive nature of the project."
Mr. Fitzgerald was a target earlier Tuesday, when about a dozen protesters gathered together before the meeting for a rally on the county courthouse steps. Holding posters and speaking to television crews, they admonished the executive for keeping negotiations under wraps, saying they'll probably find out about details just in time for the signing ceremony.
"We demand that our council hold public hearings on this subject, open to all Allegheny County residents," said Jennifer Myers of Lawrenceville. "Our public parks are treasured public spaces. They are not -- and must not become -- toxic industrial sites."
During Tuesday's meeting, county council effectively voted down a proposal by Matt Drozd, R-Ross, to put the issue up for a referendum. Mr. Drozd's bill would have allowed voters to decide if they wanted the right to veto plans to drill beneath county parkland at any point in the future.
Every council member but Mr. Drozd voted to keep the bill off the agenda.
"I think you're premature," said council member Nick Futules, D-Oakmont. "You're putting up an ordinance on something that doesn't exist yet."
That didn't make the assembled audience happy, but council members have been here before. When the council voted on whether to allow drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport, many of the same folks showed up -- some of them in Rich Fitzgerald masks -- to give lawmakers a piece of their mind.
Just as then, things got a little weird Tuesday night. One speaker equated fracturing liquid to male bodily fluid in a spoken-word poem; another later led the crowd in singing an anti-fracking folk song.
But on the whole, the diverse group stayed remarkably on message: Give us a chance to show you why this is a bad idea.
"Fracking on any level is a dangerous practice," Ms. White said. "We are under siege in our own backyards."
Correction, posted Aug. 21, 2013: Matt Drozd, Allegheny County councilman for District 1, was misidentified in the main photo with this story.
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1497.