Marcellus committee launches ‘rapid response’ effort
The Service Creek Reservoir draws from a 17.7-square-mile area and serves more than 35,000 customers in Beaver and Allegheny counties through the Ambridge Water Authority.
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Posted: Saturday, April 21, 2012 11:30 pm
By Bill Utterback email@example.com
AMBRIDGE — As nearly 100 residents walked out of a three-hour water protection presentation Saturday, Marcia Lehman was one of several people collecting fistfuls of blue volunteer cards.
“We’re getting a ton of these,” she said after the meeting in the Ambridge Area High School auditorium.
The Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee is assembling a “rapid response” team to activate if any gas developer should apply for a drilling permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for property inside the Service Creek watershed in Independence and Raccoon townships.
The Service Creek Reservoir, which draws from a 17.7-square-mile area, serves more than 35,000 customers in Beaver and Allegheny counties through the Ambridge Water Authority. No drillers have applied for DEP permits in the watershed, but firms hold leases for property inside the watershed’s perimeter.
“We expect that sooner or later, there will be an application,” Lehman, an Economy resident, said. “It’s important that we be ready.”
The rapid response team’s exact response to a permit application has not yet been determined, but it will ask the DEP to hold a public hearing before any permit in the watershed is granted.
“We don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Lehman said. “But imagine 200 letters vs. 20 letters to the DEP. Imagine 200 people gathered vs. 20 people. Bodies matter.”
The awareness committee is also preparing petitions asking for watershed protection to send to Gov. Tom Corbett and state Sen. Elder Vogel.
“Our ultimate goal is to get the state Legislature to protect the watershed, but we have to be prepared if that doesn’t come through,” Steve White, an Economy resident, said.
White said a response — from the Beaver County group or the Legislature — launched after a DEP permit is granted could be ineffective.
“It’s important to be part of the network to slow down the permitting process,” he said.
White said the group is also looking for volunteers to comb Beaver County Recorder of Deeds online records to monitor leases filed for property within the watershed.
“We need to know where the potential wells could be,” White said.
Jay and Rebecca Deiter of Economy submitted a rapid response card before leaving the building.
“I think we have some of the best water in Pennsylvania,” Jay Deiter said. “How could you not be concerned about it being polluted in some way?”
“This is an important issue for 37,000 people who need water from the Ambridge Area Water Authority,” Rebecca Deiter said. “You have to voice your opinion and hope your collective voices make a difference.”
Emily Collins, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh, encouraged the group to push state legislators for protection of the watershed.
“Protecting our sensitive areas isn’t something we’re doing in Pennsylvania,” she said. “New York is considering it, but I don’t know if we’re doing enough in Pennsylvania.”
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