Commissioners nix proposal for added protection of North Warren wellheads

The Warren County Commissioners have shot down a proposal aimed at adding an additional layer of protection to the wellheads of the North Warren Municipal Authority.

County Planner Dan Glotz said that the NWMA started the process of source water protection planning last year at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection. He explained that the planning includes a number of studies of surface and subsurface elements, geographic analysis and water flows.

The NWMA then approached the Planning Commission about a transparent overlay zone on the county zoning maps – broken into three zones with the most restrictive elements nearest to the wellheads located on the Warren State Hospital grounds.

At the time, Glotz explained that the Commission wanted the NWMA and the Conewango Township supervisors to be in agreement. The two entities brought the proposal back to the Commission in May and the Commission then recommended it for approval to the commissioners.

During a public hearing on the issue prior to Monday’s commissioner’s meeting, several people spoke on the proposal, specifically on the portion that restricts oil and gas development in the two most restrictive zones.

“We’re dying on the vine in Warren County,” Arthur Stewart said. “We’re an aging population. I get tired of running businesses, fighting all the regulations that there are to fight. Have you looked at every possibility here? What is the concern with respect to drilling.”

“We… need business in our community (and) want to strike a reasonable balance for that. Yet another layer of regulatory burden… is just really not a reasonable balance.

Dave Clark added that “as well meaning as it is,” the overlay would result in the commissioners “all of a sudden trying to answer to many, many, many different masters.”

“This (oil and gas) is an area that is highly regulated already,” David Bauer said. “What is the compelling reason to the county… to begin regulating in a whole new area you’ve never regulated before?”

“Once you start down this road, you’re there,” he added. “And once you’re on the road, it’s easy for it to expand and expand…. The proof is we don’t have the drinking water problem.”

Rusty VanEpps, who works for the NWMA, said that the intent is “a preventative purpose to protect the water aquifer…. We’re not talking only oil and gas. If you contaminate an aquifer the size of ours, you can’t fix it.”

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said that much of the discussion had “nothing to do with drilling” and suggested that this is an issue where a municipal government is trying to have a say on how business in their municipality is addressed.

“This is something that the municipality wants to handle,” he said. “I think they should have that say,” calling their desire to protect the aquifer a “reasonable request.”

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said that he weighed the pros and cons of the issue and said that he “would like to point out this is not an issue between water quality and oil and gas rights. If you look at the proposed changes, there are 21 newly regulated land uses.”

He pointed out that those land uses included are already regulated either by the county’s zoning ordinance or by the state.

“(I’m) not inclined to approve it,” he said. “I’m really not concerned about this one way or the other. I don’t think this is going to limit rights or provide additional protection.”

Kafferlin added that the proposal is not “addressing a real harm.”

He thanked Glotz and his staff for the work put into it and said there was value in exploring the topic but added that he doesn’t “see any new gaps here that the ordinance will be fixing.”

Commissioner Cindy Morrison said that the “onus is on the county in regulating this. Therefore, the expense is on the county…. I think it could potentially become a huge burden to the county and we don’t have trained staff currently to regulate this.”

She called this overlay “just another layer of regulation I don’t think we need. Not that we don’t want clean drinking water (but) the oil and gas industry is over 150 years old. We have more regulations in place than we’ve ever had before.”

She said she heard no complaints about contamination or specifics on the wells in the zones.

“I’m really opposed to this regulation as well,” she concluded.

The measure failed 2-1 with Eggleston in favor and Kafferlin and Morrison opposed.