Ligonier Valley Doesn’t Want to Be a Sacrifice Zone

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.
~ Ansel Adams, American Photographer and Environmentalist.

ligonier-valleyIf Ansel Adams were to visit Marcellus Shale communities in Pennsylvania, he would be horrified at the destruction being wrought by the fossil fuel industry.

Where once rural and peaceful towns existed are now sacrifice zones in the name of corporate profit and personal gain. Where residents are fighting their own elected officials to preserve the towns and homes they love.

Ligonier Valley, located in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania is one such town. It was recognized by the Washington Post as a “Small-Town Charmer”, steeped in history, and beauty. If the town supervisors have their way, Ligonier Valley will join hundreds of other towns now know as the sacrifice zones of the Pennsylvania Gaslands.

Until recently, Ligonier Valley has managed to avoid many of the harmful impacts of fracking and all that it brings along.   But that may change quickly.

Wade Thomas wades into the issue.   Thomas was elected as a supervisor in November 2014.

A month later in December 2014, Supervisor-Elect Wade Thomas stood at a supervisor meeting and requested  $10,000 of the impact fees received by Ligonier, be set aside to fund a campaign to bring the natural gas industry to Ligonier.   It passed over objections of residents.

Wade Thomas was officially sworn in as Supervisor in January 2015.

Zoning to Fit

Ordinances that are written can be re-written, in the case of Ligonier Valley, they are being rewritten to benefit the natural gas industry, and residents are not happy.

Township supervisors say they must update ordinances to meet state law and court rulings.   In December 2013 Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the one-zoning-fits all provision of Act 13.   One section of the law found unconstitutional called for statewide rules on oil and gas to preempt local zoning rules. Another section required municipalities to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.

The power to zone remains with the towns.   The purpose of zoning is to ensure a controlled growth of a municipality and to protect those who live there.   It is not to allow the willy-nilly industrialization which puts residents in harm’s way.

Ligonier Valley supervisors, over objection of residents, the same residents who voted them into office, dissolved Ligonier Township zoning and opened the door for the natural gas industry.

Many people pointed out that they bought property in Ligonier Township because the other surrounding townships had much more lax zoning or none at all. They chose Ligonier Township due to stronger zoning. Now with the zoning changes, they are extremely worried about their property values and the aesthetics of their neighborhoods.   This was brought up numerous times at public hearings, and obviously ignored by the Ligonier Supervisors.

Fracking will come to properties 50 acres or greater that are zoned Agricultural.   Additionally, most previously zoned Conservation districts, and certain Residential districts, will be rezoned Agricultural under the new ordinance and will comprise 75-85% of the entire Township.

Solicitor Michael Korns and township manager Terry Carcella insist the proposed ordinance would enhance protections for the valley.   We’ve heard this before from many other sacrifice zone township supervisors and the fossil fuel industry.

EADS Group

The EADS Group were contracted to create the new ordinance. Korns and Carcella are working with EADS Group on the new ordinances and zoning maps.

EADS Group is a member of the shale lobbying group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Ligonier Planning Commissioner Ben Foss is employed by the EADS Group.

As a Side note: During the January 5, 2015 Ligonier Township Supervisors Reorganization meeting a motion was made by Bruce Robinson and seconded by Paul Knupp to compensate the Planning Commission members at a rate of $30.00 per meeting to be paid quarterly for 2015. The motion carried.

Free-for-All Fracking

On March 11, 2015, the lone supervisor, Tim Komar made a motion to enforce a moratorium on all gas well fracking in Ligonier Township.

  • Chairman Wade Thomas stated he did not second the motion “because I want to move forward” with the zoning ordinances.
  • Supervisor Paul Knupp had no comment why he chose not to second.
  • Supervisor Bruce Robinson said Kornar’s motion came out of nowhere and the board would listen to concerns at a March 26, 2015 hearing.

The Board of supervisors approved a list of rules for the hearing. The Rules include:

  • All people wishing to speak must sign up 3 days prior to the hearing and also on the day of the hearing.
  • Speakers are limited to 10 minutes.
  • Presentations will be allowed, while audio/visual equipment will be provided, presenters must bring their own computer.
  • Non-Residents would be allowed to speak.

Ethics Violation

Residents were successful in forcing Michale Korns, Ligonier Township Solicitor, to submit a query about a possible ethics violation of Township Supervisor Thomas Wade and his oil and gas leases.

The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission determined in a March 18, 2015 letter that yes, Supervisor Wade would have a conflict of interest in this matter.   See excerpt below:

ligonier-wade-ethics

Preserve Ligonier Valley

The fight against their own government continues. The Citizens to Preserve Ligonier Valley (CPLV), a grassroots organization, are not going to sit back and allow the special interests of the natural gas industry and certain individuals turn their homes into yet another gasland sacrifice zone.

Through the GoFundMe website, they have created Preserve Ligonier Valley campaign to raise funds to assist them with costs related to:

• Educational Forums
• Informational Announcements
• Hosting costs for speakers
• Film screenings
• Legal fees

For more information, visit Citizens to Preserve Ligonier Valley website today.
© 2015 by Dory Hippauf

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