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Environment & Energy

Referendum On Drilling Ban Will Proceed

The township manager of a Washington County community says officials will not appeal Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky's decision to allow an anti-drilling referendum to be placed on the November ballot.

The Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness group collected 2,500 signatures to place the question on the ballot to allow voters to decide whether to amend the township's home rule charter to ban gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. But township officials tried to block the referendum.

"We were hoping to get a decision on the legality of the (proposed) ordinance," said Township Manager Michael Silvestri. "Unfortunately the judge decided at this time that's beyond his jurisdiction. But we believe the ordinance itself is illegal on many standpoints and will have some potentially devastating ramifications to the community both legally and financially."

Supporters of the referendum deny that putting it on the ballot would cause such harm.

Silvestri says the township council adopted an amendment to the zoning ordinance that created property zones with regulations regarding noise, environmental testing, and trucking routes to limit drilling but not ban it outright.

"We felt that was the best tack to take to work within the confines of the (state) laws, as opposed to trying something more radical that basically says 'We're going to ignore the law,'" Silvestri said.

Silvestri added that council is in "a very tough position" and respects the efforts of the supporters of a drilling ban, but council members are "stewards to the overall community" and "all property owners." He said that township officials from now until election day will try to make their case about the potential legal ramifications of a complete ban.