Members of Protect Our Parks presents Allegheny County Council with a petition to stop drilling in Deer Lakes Park last summer. The group is the first to get county council to consider citizen-sponsored legislation. (Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette)
By Molly Born
While news that Chelsa Wagner might take four county-appointed authorities to court dominated Grant Street this week, a group of Allegheny County residents got one step closer to making history.
At county council's Dec. 2 meeting, members of the Protect Our Parks coalition presented the more than 1,800 signatures they'd collected in support of a two-year ban on drilling at all non-Deer Lakes Park facilities -- the first citizen-sponsored ordinance to be considered by the panel. And on Wednesday, council's government reform committee gave the proposal a neutral recommendation, moving it to council for a vote.
Committee members commended the organization.
"Congratulations on being the first group to get the signatures," Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, told two Protect Our Parks members.
"I'm glad we have this provision in the charter that we can have this kind of ordinance brought before us. I don't care if they come up with one that says, 'Paint the Gold Room red, white and blue.' If the citizens think that's an important issue, I think we have to listen to that," said Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square.
While also tipping his hat to the group's efforts, Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, expressed concern about a moratorium.
"I would vote against this because I want to have that right and opportunity to weight each individual opportunity as they arrive," he said.
And a quick recap on where we are with Deer Lakes: In May, council voted 9-5 to allow non-surface natural gas drilling beneath the 1,180-acre, county-owned park, leasing the county's oil and gas rights to driller Range Resources. The lease will yield $4.7 million to the county, $3 million to a parks improvement fund and 18 percent in royalties that have been estimated at more than $50 million.
Drilling hasn't hasn't started yet, councilman Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, noted at the meeting. Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said he has no plans to begin drilling under other county parks.