Switching up my itinerary for last night, I decided not to attend the ShaleTest “Truth Tour” in Montrose. Instead, I went to the Dallas Township zoning meeting to see what folks were saying about proposed changes to a local zoning ordinance impacting the present and future activities of the gas industry. Groups such as the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC) and Marcellus Shale Protest have been working overtime to stir up as much opposition as they can, posting this letter
on their websites:
You are being used as dupes in a cruel hoax.
Passage of any of these ordinances will open the flood gates to the industrialization of your rural & peaceful communities. The conditions imposed on the gas industry by these ordinances are simply not stringent enough to protect your interests & are in fact the same conditions that the industry has already imposed on themselves.
The real purpose of these ordinances is to take the pressure off of your elected officials & negate their oaths to protect the health, safety & welfare of their constituents. Township Solicitors & Planning Consultants are in favor of enacting these ordinances because it would keep them in compliance with the PA Municipal Planning Code which parrots the dictates of the PA 1984 Oil/Gas Act & will avoid involving them in conflict.
So, let’s see if we understand this: if local officials follow the law they are “duping” their citizens, right? Whoa! Breaking the law would be more honest? Can they be serious? Well, unfortunately, they are. This is the level at which our opponents argue; insisting their opinions matter more than the law itself, let alone the opinions of others. They are zero-tolerance true believers
, determined to impose their opinions on anyone and everyone.
The controversy for many is the amending of the special exception process
, which requires a public hearing and zoning hearing board approval before a permit is issued.
The new ordinance would treat the affected uses as conditional uses, a very similar process that also involves hearings, but puts the decision with the Board of Supervisors. Regardless, any applicant has to meet certain conditions to obtain approval and the proposed ordinance changes is more specific as to what these conditions might include. For example, an environmental study by a third-party group must be conducted. This required environmental study is initially paid for by the town but reimbursed by the applicant so as to ensure independence.
One would think such revisions would be welcomed by those with concerns, as more science will be inserted into the process of making decisions and conditions that can imposed are clarified, but this was not to be so. Many of the attendees saw this new permitting process as nothing more than a way to streamline things and make it easier for the gas companies, which is simply not true. We’ve seen this pattern so many times in so many places; any attempt to modify an ordinance to bring into conformance with the law and accommodate natural gas development, even to impose new conditions on it, is assessed by gas opponents as being insufficiently anti-gas. Nothing less than pure prohibition is good enough for them and they expect everyone else to blindly follow their lead.
Fortunately, the board did a great job of responding to the concerns of the citizens by explaining the law and how conditional permitting would allow for comprehensive studies to be conducted and approvals to be reasonably conditioned. This a delicate time for local officials who generally know their responsibilities well, but need support from all of us. We should expect them to stand up alone against those who attempt to get their way through intimidation. We need to stand up with them. Staying at home while others voice their opinions will not promote new jobs or economic growth.
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