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PGE vs Grant Twp. seemingly settled

The long, winding and “byzantine” legal fight between Warren-based Pennsylvania General Energy and an Indiana County township appears to be at an end.

A stipulation and order was entered by the parties with the United State District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on Nov. 13.

It states that “all participated in the Third Circuit’s Mediation program, amicably resolving the claims of all parties and resulting in the withdrawal of all appeals and the discontinuance of all appellate proceedings with prejudice.”

The stipulation further states that a prior order in the case has been “satisfied in full” and requests that a bond be released to PGE.

The settlement totals $75,000 and will be paid by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which represented Grant Township, Indiana County.

The cases originated when Grant Township attempted to prevent Pennsylvania General Energy from utilizing a defunct natural gas well as an injection well to dispose of oil and gas wastewater.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued permits for PGE to convert the well and, in response, Grant Township crafted a “Community Bill of Rights” aimed at prohibiting PGE’s proposed activity as a means of protecting the water supply in their community.

PGE challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance and ultimately settled with Grant Township for $1 dollar while elements of the ordinance were struck down on constitutional grounds.

In 2017, the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the injection well proposal and took the township to court to determine if its local rules would supersede state law. DEP won that case.

That did not stop the township, which unsuccessfully attempted to implement a home rule charter to prohibit the activity.

In the wake of the settlement between PGE and Grant Township, PGE sought to collect legal fees from the township that could have exceeded $600,000 but, Baxter wrote, PGE “only seeks a fraction of those fees in a good-faith effort to reduce the financial hardship of the township” and to “avoid bankrupting Grant Township…”

The total PGE sought to collect is $100,000 with an additional $2,978.18 in costs and online research fees.

PGE also filed for sanctions to be levied against the township’s attorneys, Thomas Linzey and Elizabeth Dunne of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), for “frivolous, unfounded, harassing pleadings and motions…”

In January, 2018, Baxter ordered the CELDF attorneys to pay PGE $52,000. It was that payment that appears to be satisfied in last’s week stipulation and order.

A Third Circuit Court of Appeals case regarding the legal fees that the township was ordered to pay PGE was also dismissed “without costs against any party” stemming from participation in the mediation program.

The $75,000 settlement addresses both the $100,000 order against the township and the sanctions against CELDF’s attorneys.

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