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Damascus campaign pits Joe Canfield against Dolores Keesler


October 26, 2011

The campaign that pits resident Dolores Keesler against incumbent supervisor Joe Canfield is generating a lot of heat and energy in Damascus Township.

The story goes back to March, when Canfield unexpectedly made a motion to remove Keesler as the township representative to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC), saying that she did not represent a majority in the township. Consequently, she was removed. Some residents were so incensed that they embarked on an effort to write in Keesler’s name on the primary ballot.

They won. Keesler is now on the ballot, challenging Canfield.
Keesler and Canfield have stated their positions on several important issues in the township.

On the persistent problem with the roads, Keesler suggests that she would work to establish an effective road management plan that would establish repair priorities that would be followed regularly.

On this issue, Canfield said, “I have been actively pursuing alternative paving that is going to be about 50% of the cost of paving done by PennDOT’s superpave spec.”

Regarding the traditional role supervisors also serving as road masters, Canfield answers, “The system of supervisor/road master has been working well for more than 100 years and I see no point in changing it.”

Keelser said, “It’s clear in the supervisor’s handbook that there is no requirement that the supervisor be a road master.”
On the allegation that township decisions are made without adequate public input or open discussion, Canfield said, “In any given situation, the board of supervisors must look at the whole picture and make decisions they believe will benefit the entire township and not just those who may have an agenda of their own.”

Keesler, however, said, “During meetings, motions are made, seconded and voted on with no revealing of what factors were used in arriving at the decision. A case in point: at the meeting of March 2011, the agenda item was simply ‘UDC,’with no explanation to promote comments. It turned out that my removal was the order of business, not the UDC itself.”

On whether gas drilling is a positive opportunity for the town, Keesler said, “It is an individual’s right to lease their land, but individuals are still accountable to neighbors and the community for the impact of activity on their land, water, etc.”

On this point, Canfield said, “If gas drilling can be done responsibly, with strong regulations, even stronger oversight and respect for property rights, it can benefit our community. Everyone is in favor of safety and quality of life, and we must find ways for all of us to work together to build Damascus Township.”

Facts please

As in the case of how Dolores was removed from the UDC, I have seen nothing that shows when, where or how the three member board deliberated in order to come to the decision to vote to remove her. The deliberation, not just the vote to remove, must take place in public. She could not have been removed for misrepresenting the township. There was nothing up to that point to represent. In fact, she simply asked a question about how far back from the river the waters of the basin are determined to be. This was pertinent and could and should have been asked by anyone with a head on their shoulders and, I might add, whether they are in favor of drilling or not. A question certainly does not reflect an agenda. Why were the Supervisors so threatened by some one asking something so innocuous? Did they already have all the answers? Silencing a quest for information is a horrible travesty and injustice to the "majority" who pay taxes In the township. Changing our existing ordinances to facilitate an agenda is far more questionable. Special Exceptions, where drilling was relegated to, are reviewed by the Zoning Hearing Board and hearing board members certainly may visit a case site in order to become better informed...they only must do it individually or not discuss with other members prior to a hearing, nor may they opinionate at a hearing. "Oversite",a function of the DEP, after a permit is approved,had nothing to do with the ZHB. Making it easier to get a well drilled by changing the use to "Conditional" in a rural-residential zone, whereby the Planning Commission could review and support the Supervisors was the real purpose behind the change. The Planning Commission has zero authority. They only exist to make recommendations. A township is not required to even have a Planning Commission. In many cases, elected Supervisors come from backgrounds diverse enough to have accumulated extensive knowledge of planning and related issues. But if applications for drilling permits were to have remained as Special Exceptions and heard by the Zoning Hearing Board, the Planning Commission would have had no opportunity for input. I say it might be time for Damascus to make public once more the results of the township wide survey that was created to re-write the comprehensive plan. It had a lot to say about protecting our natural resources, especially because of the integrity of the rural landscape, the topography and the protection of the water resource. But the fact is, that was before we had elected and appointed officials who had all signed leases.

Mr. Canfield's opinions don't match the facts

Tom Kane does a good job of laying out a timeline and some basic misrepresentations by Mr. Canfield.

I'm glad to see Canfield's remark repeated, that Ms. Keesler was removed (by the vote of the gas-lessor supervisors), because she "did not represent" the "majority" in the township. That statement was, and is, irresponsible, baseless, and false.

What she does not represent, is the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance point of view, which was in 2008, and is now, to "drill here, drill now". That, obviously, is Mr. Canfield's position.

I will make two broad points about "majority", and "safety, regulation, and enforcement", all of which Mr. Canfield shamelessly distorts for his personal benefit.

First, the figures regarding "majority" tell the opposite truth. In Damascus Township, just under 33% of the individual owners of property leased for drilling (24% primary resident, 9% second home or simple property ownership). Unfortunately, for the remaining 67% of its citizens, this one third minority owns 69% of the land surface. Also, unfortunately, this one third minority of the owners who own two thirds of the acreage only form 39% of the taxbase. That seems like quite a racket to me. A minority, calling itself the majority, calling itself the "backbone" of the tax base, when it really just wants to live off the fat of their gas land, no matter the quality of life impacts, or actual contamination, that will inevitably result for the vast majority of the population.

As to safety, in 2008-2010, the gas industry, and representatives of PA DEP, were still stating that the frac'ing was accomplished using only "water and sand". NWPOA was actively negotiating leasing at that time. PA DEP had hardly any inspection or enforcement staff, and yet, PA DEP was handing out permits at a rate of review of 35 minutes per application, through mid 2011. PA DEP did not differentiate between areas, even if they were high quality watersheds, let alone the special protection waters of the Upper Delaware River, or the scenic byway, or the National Park. PA DEP had removed local control and review, neither the PA legislature, nor the Executive Branch, nor PA DEP, had upgraded any regulations since the 1984 Oil and Gas Act.

Who in their right mind thinks that placing a well pad, or more importantly, a well, or 10 wells within 200 feet of a non lessor's home and water well is sane and "safe" (let alone neighborly). I could go on listing all the incredible shortcomings of the regulations, lack of enforcement, the danger to the population, but I hope you get the idea.

Joe Canfield was always ready to drill, even though it was far from safe. He is ready now, even though it is far from safe. He profited by leasing, he would profit if our area is producible. "Safety" is not his primary concern, based upon these transparent facts.

He should not be a Township supervisor, in charge of making the decisions that impact the population as a whole.

Perhaps he should be a spokesperson of Newfield, or Hess.