April 5, 2011 —
Of the 20 citizens who spoke at the second public hearing on proposed amendments to the township’s zoning ordinance affecting gas drilling, only two spoke in favor of the changes.
None of the representatives of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) who support the amendment spoke. Only a few even attended.
“They didn’t have to attend because they wrote the amendment,” someone yelled out at the meeting.
The amendment changes the ordinance on drilling from a special exception to a conditional use, which would remove the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) from any role in approving or denying drilling and gives the power of approval to the supervisors.
The new amendment would allow gas drilling in the rural residential district—covering over 90 percent of the township— and restrict it in the Delaware River district and the five smaller neighborhood development districts.
The amendment adds definitions concerning what constitutes a well pad and a gas well, and establishes setbacks of 100 feet from property lines and roads and the river district boundaries. Drilling a well in the river district would be forbidden but gas could be extracted from under the river district if it were from a well outside the district that could be reached by horizontal drilling.
One of the main objections to the proposed amendment that was repeated numerous times was that it would make the rural residential district an industrial district.
One of the speakers was Barbara Arrindell of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) who said, “The current zoning does not allow unrestricted and wholesale industrialization of the township. The zoning changes that are being proposed will allow Damascus to become an industrialized area and will endanger water and air. We should keep the existing zoning and not change it. These changes will give the supervisors total discretion in allowing drilling at their will.”
Arrindell and other speakers reminded citizens that all the current supervisors, the members of the planning commission and other township officials have signed leases. “They should not be allowed to judge something that will directly benefit them,” one speaker said.
The current zoning would require that each proposed gas or oil well would have to come before the township ZHB for approval with local input including an advertised public hearing.
Back in August of 2010, zoning officer Ed Lagarenne issued a stop order to the drilling operation at the Woodland Management site on Route 371 because the company had not applied for a special exception permit demanded by the current zoning ordinance. The company ignored the order and took the township to federal court, stating that the state’s oil and gas act supersedes township ordinances. The judge ruled that the township should sign a consent decree with the company to work out their differences.
That sparked the move to change the zoning law. “We’re doing this so that we won’t get challenged,” said township attorney Jeffrey Treat. “I don’t think we will be challenged by the company with this amendment.”