Marcellus Shale Question Will Be on Ballots

On Tuesday, October 4, 2011 0 comments

Barring any appeals, it appears that the question to amend the Peters Township Home Rule Charter will appear on the ballots in the Nov. 8 general election.

Members of the Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness and Action Group confirmed late Monday that Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky ruled in their favor in a decision handed down earlier in the afternoon.

The judge’s decision came earlier than expected.

Pozonsky stated at a hearing last Wednesday that he would accept final briefs from legal counsel on Monday, and render a decision by the end of the week.

There was no immediate comment from Peters Township Solicitor William Johnson or township administration. Attempts to reach township officials at the end of the day were not successful.
The ruling clears the way for the question to appear on the ballot asking voters if the township’s Home Rule Charter should be amended to include a bill of rights and incorporate a ban on gas drilling within township boundaries.

Members of the Marcellus Shale Awareness group filed a petition in August with more than 2,400 names to have the question go before voters.

The township asked the court for an injunction against placing the question on the ballot, saying it would subject the township to lawsuits from individuals and gas companies. In his arguments, Johnson also argued, that if approved, the township would be a violation of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, as well as causing the township’s drilling ordinance to be nullified.

In his ruling, Pozonsky said the court lacks jurisdiction to rule on pre-election challenges “without an immediate harm caused by the presence of the measure on the ballot.”

PTMSA member Ann Shaner said the ruling was a proper one.

“We’re elated by the decision, because we said all along that the threshold issue was that it was the right of the people to vote,” she said. “You can’t speculate that this might happen or that might happen, or this person might sue. You can’t go on that because it’s all speculation.”

Shaner said she received a call after the lunch hour Monday afternoon that Judge Pozonsky had rendered his decision.

“This gives the people the right to vote. It’s democracy at work,” she said. “Whether we win or lose, it should go to a vote.”

Shaner said she and members of the PTMSA group disagree that the ballot question will nullify the gas drilling ordinance recently passed by council and that lawsuits will result.

“How can you have lawsuits if there are no permits issued?” she asked. “I don’t think anyone can bring a lawsuit for something that doesn’t even exist. People sign gas leases all over the country, but it doesn’t mean gas companies want to drill tomorrow.”

Shaner said she is not opposed to the existing ordinance, but said her group has information that some gas companies already planning challenges to the ordinance.

“Chesapeake Energy says there are about 16 items in the (township) ordinance that they would find objection to,” she said. “The only way the Oil and Gas Act is going to be changed is to chip away at it item by item. We’re going to change it by case law.”

It is not known if the township will appeal Pozonsky’s decision.

He said at the hearing he wanted to make his ruling in time to allow for any appeals that might take place.
According to Washington County Solicitor Mary Lynn Drewitz, the county elections office needed the decision before Oct. 12.

Drewitz, said that the “drop dead date” for a decision is Oct. 17.

Read the entire article here


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