A Step in the Wrong Direction for California Borough

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Since the public hearing on Thursday, June 7, 2018, California Borough Council has discussed the new zoning ordinance at three different meetings. At the first, a general Council meeting, the ordinance was brought up, and we learned that there were two pages missing from the publicized draft. Discussion of provisions in Section 407 and 421 (the sections related to unconventional oil and gas development) was pushed back to the Thursday, July 6th working meeting.

The July 6th meeting was troubling. Some Councilmen and industry representatives are using the conditional use provision - where all unconventional oil and gas activity will be subject to a conditional use hearing - as an excuse for not establishing a protective ordinance.

  • Council has struck the provision that would require additional setback distances based on the horsepower of compressor stations, leaving only a 1500ft setback between a compressor and a protected structure.
  • One councilman, Mr. Mariscotti, is adamant that the distance between a well pad and a protected structure be measured from the wellbore as opposed to from the edge of the well pad. He also insists that 500ft is a sufficient distance.

  • As a “compromise” there is an idea to set setback distances of 600-750ft as measured from the wellbore. The next draft, though, will likely only include a 500ft setback as measured from the wellbore.

These changes give no consideration to the fact that setback distances mandated by the state of Pennsylvania were set for political reasons and ignore the current public health data about “safe” and “protective” requirements. When Council members ask questions like “What does the state say,” or “Is this something you [industry] can live with?” they are ignoring their obligations under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to fully analyze their local situation.

This conversation was supposed continue on Thursday, July 12, but it was not. The issue was brought up under “Old Business” and the Council - at the advice of the solicitor - accepted changes and made plans to hold a second public hearing on Thursday, September 6, 2018. If you are concerned about these developments, please sign this petition - to be delivered at the second public hearing - voicing your concern and support for a protective ordinance.

As a resident of California Borough, this experience has been confounding. I have known most of the Council members for most of my life. Their kids played baseball with my brother, they worked in the concession stand every Friday night for football games, and they can be seen almost year round taking walks throughout the streets in town. They’re great people. It is clear to me, though, that there are some members of Council who cannot take their personal values - where they care deeply about their neighbors and believe in a sense of community - and extend them to what they view as “political” decision making. To me, this issue is not political. It’s not political when your neighbor’s kid develops asthma because a well pad was put too close to the school. It’s not political when your best friend’s well water is contaminated because of an underground leak no one could detect and no company willingly reported to the Department of Environmental Protection. It’s not political when there’s a real risk that a well pad or a pipeline could blow up and burn everything within a half-mile radius and beyond. I do not want to have to buy a ticket to a spaghetti dinner to benefit sick kids or a distraught family because some Council members and some vocal community members wanted to receive royalty checks.

The Borough’s committee and regular meetings (both open to the public) are regularly scheduled for the first and second Thursday each month. If this is an issue that concerns you, I encourage you to reach out to your council members by calling the Borough at 724-938-8878. Please reach out to me at 724-229-3550 or smartik@coalfieldjustice.org with any questions about the ordinance, the process, or ways to get involved!