by Linda MetzObserver-Reporter
September 14th, 2011

With less than two months to go before the Nov. 8 general election, it’s still unclear whether a referendum on a home rule charter amendment will make its way onto the ballot in Peters Township.

On Tuesday, township solicitor William Johnson filed a petition asking the court to have the final say on the referendum, which he claims would violate the township’s home rule charter by banning natural gas drilling in the municipality if it is approved.

About 2,400 registered township voters signed a petition presented Aug. 8 to Washington County Director of Elections Larry Spahr seeking the referendum. The petition was submitted on behalf of various residents known as Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness Group.

In the meantime, Johnson advised council that the amended home rule charter would be illegal and would violate, among other things, the state Oil and Gas Act, the township’s planning code, Pennsylvania and federal constitutions and prevailing decisions by appellate courts.

The move would leave the township subject to significant claims and legal bills, the solicitor believes.

Johnson reiterated those arguments in the petition that he filed with Judge Paul Pozonsky.

“The total prohibition of oil and gas development with Peters Township would be constitutionally invalid because it would deprive mineral estate owners of property rights without due process of law or just compensation and results in an unlawful taking of property interests,” his petition states.

Township council last month approved an oil and gas ordinance that council members said restricted drilling as much as possible while still remaining within the law.

Pozonsky will hear arguments on the matter at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 28. The parties are to submit their legal briefs by Sept. 21.

Meanwhile, Larry Spahr, county elections director, said it’s looking like the referendum will appear on absentee and overseas ballots as those are to be mailed late next week. However, Spahr said if the court rules against the referendum, those votes will not be counted.

Also, Spahr explained that with the county’s computerized election machines, he will be able to disable the referendum from appearing before voters. The situation would have been much more complicated under the old punch card voting system, he said. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.

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