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Environment & Energy

Drilling Opponent Wants Councilman To Withdraw From Deer Lakes Lease Proposal

One Etna resident thinks Allegheny County Councilman Nicholas Futules (D-Oakmont) should not be a part of the discussion about fracking under Deer Lakes Park.

Tim Ludwig, a Protect Our Parks member, has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

He wants the Commission to force Futules to recuse himself from discussing or voting on the proposed extraction of natural gas underneath the 1,180-acre park.

Futules and his family have land in Penn Hills with a shallow well leased to Huntley & Huntley - the same company with the proposed lease for Deer Lakes Park.

According to Ludwig, this creates a conflict of interest, and he believes Futules should remove himself from further action with the proposal.

“As the Chair of the Parks Committee, it’s his responsibility to take controlled debates of the issue of leasing the park,” Ludwig said. “And in doing that, I believe he violated a state law that states if you have a contract with a company that you’re negotiating with, you shouldn’t be in charge of debate on that issue.”

Ludwig said he believes the council’s debates and hearings concerning the proposal are being steered by Futules.

“Because of that, only industry or people connected with the executive office are being invited to the so called hearings on the issue,” Ludwig said. "Our hopes are that when he is forced to recuse and those meetings take place again, that more independent voices will be heard.”

Though Futules would only be one vote, Ludwig said the main issue is that he wants his representatives to hear information from all sides of the debate so they can make an informed decision.

However since County Executive Rich Fitzgerald unveiled the proposed lease March 18, couty council held a public hearing at Deer Lakes High School April 2nd and heard 40 people testify for and against the lease at its regular meeting April 22nd.

In addition, the Parks Committee held the second of three planned meetings about the proposal Wednesday.

However, Futules has said that he does not intend to recuse himself.

“I had spoken to at least four attorneys, and I have an opinion from the State Ethics Commission, as well,” Futules said. “And I’m waiting for their lettered response for that, but I had their verbal confirmations telling me that I was not a conflict of interest, and I started this process much earlier than the committee process was starting to make sure that everything was above board.”

Fitzgerald has proposed selling  the county’s mineral rights for Deer Lakes Park to Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley.

He has insisted that there will be no drilling operations on the park’s surface and said it would bring the county a $4.7 million bonus, $3 million for the parks committee and up to 18 percent in royalties.

“If you look at the environmental impacts, that just doubles it that the air pollution that is caused by this industry, the water pollution that is caused by this industry, the truck traffic, the list goes on and on,” Ludwig said. “It’s just not an industry that I would like in and around my public park.”

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