Posted by Josh Woods on October 26th, 2010
DUBOIS – Bill Belitskus, the co-chair of Northwestern Pennsylvania Community Rights Network, has appealed to DuBois City Council to draft an ordinance prohibiting oil and gas extraction in residential areas. Belitskus presented information on draft ordinances to be considered in Fayette and Allegheny counties focused on protecting citizens from unfavorable or inappropriate development.
Belitskus outlined a few ordinances that plan to follow a conditional use process in order to address safety and quality of life issues. That process would require a permit and public hearing, he said. Additionally, some municipalities have entertained requirements such as setbacks to keep oil and gas extraction away from schools and hospitals.
City Solicitor Toni Cherry commented on Belitskus’ request. According to Cherry, the law does not permit the city to set forth conditions, requirements or limitations. Cherry cited a recent Commonwealth Court decision in the case of Huntley & Huntley Inc. vs. Oakmont Borough in which the judge overturned Oakmont’s conditional use process for oil and gas extraction. In the decision, Commonwealth Court ruled that the Oil and Gas Act of 1992 supersedes all conditions, requirements and limitations concerning oil and gas extraction set by the municipal government.
However, Cherry said it is her belief the city still has the right to stipulate in a zoning or flood plain ordinance that oil and gas extraction or mining may not occur in specific zone or in a flood plain. Cherry said her concern was that if an ordinance were drafted stating extraction was not allowed in one area, the council would go further and set forth guidelines for extraction in other areas. Such guidelines are not permissible, she said.
In other business, City Manager John “Herm” Suplizio invited the media to take a bus tour consisting of places of interest within the city on Nov. 12 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The media will be given the opportunity to ask questions and obtain information. Access will be granted to the city’s newly purchased land, its rock quarry, new water wells and DuBois Watershed. The bus tour will also stop at a Marcellus gas drilling site that is not on city-owned land and is not affiliated with the city.
Council also reviewed its guidelines for public comment.
Those who wish to make a public comment must step up to the microphone, state their name and address and keep their comments to three minutes in length. At the end of their three-minute comment period, those making a comment should return to their seat. Once public comments are over, they are over. Political solicitation or political slander is not permitted.
Solicitor Toni Cherry said that while the city applauds the public’s right to support or not support a candidate and it is important to be politically active, political comments should be made outside of city council chambers.
“Basically it’s become freelance, people are just standing up and talking, and it’s not in an orderly fashion,” said Suplizio. “We need to get back to our procedure.”
During public comments, resident Dave Mikalonis asked the city to consider drafting an ordinance to protect its citizens from oil and gas migration. He said oil and gas extraction should not be allowed near schools and hospitals.
Cherry reminded him of the superseding of the Oil and Gas Act.
Lester Smiley asked council who should be contacted to allow conditions, requirements and limitations to be set for extraction. Cherry recommended he contact local legislators.
DuBois Watershed Committee representative Sam Miles lauded the city’s efforts to be proactive in the protection of the city’s watershed. Miles pointed out the city has led an effort for wellhead protection, hired the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an analytical study, hired Casselberry & Associates to conduct a private study and held a public meeting on Marcellus shale drilling at DuBois Area Middle School. Miles said councilwoman Diane Bernardo has been active in obtaining information on water protection and has coordinated with the League of Cities.
“These people (council) are now in phase two,” said Miles. “They hope to get DEP, Clearfield County Conservation, the gas companies … anyone they can to form a grand committee.
“So, I ask for your indulgence and time. Right now that is where they stand. Right now they are doing everything possible to protect our area.”
DuBois City Council’s next meeting is Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. A work session is scheduled for Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.