Middlesex zoning appeal is denied
Eagle Staff Writer
Written by:
June 10, 2017

PITTSBURGH — The Commonwealth Court has denied the third appeal of a Middlesex Township zoning ordinance amendment that allows shale gas development in the residential-agricultural zoning district.

The Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and three township residents who live near the Geyer gas wells on Denny Road appealed a zoning amendment approved by Middlesex supervisors in 2014 to the township’s zoning hearing board.

After several exhaustive hearings with testimony from those appealing, as well as the township, Rex Energy and MarkWest’s attorneys, the zoning board upheld the amendment.

The objectors then appealed to Butler County Court, where they were also denied.

Both sides then gave testimony in November in an appeal to Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh, and those judges handed down their decision on Wednesday.

Attorney Mike Gallagher, who represents the township zoning board and served as mediator during the hearings, is pleased that the court affirmed the decision of the township zoning hearing board.

“The opinion of Commonwealth Court cites at length and confirms the thought process of the zoning hearing board members,” Gallagher said. “I am glad that the court took into consideration the considerable time and effort of the zoning hearing board members in hearing the case and reaching a decision.”

Attorney Jordan Yeager, who represents the objectors, said the latest court decision is “clearly inconsistent with established law.”

He said the case law the judges used in their decision is currently under review and should not have been used to decide the case.

Yeager said an appeal to the state Supreme Court could happen.

“My expectation is there will be an appeal,” Yeager said.

The objectors maintained that shale gas development is an industrial use that does not belong in the township’s residential-agricultural zone.

They also worry that the pollution and potential danger associated with shale gas drilling is unacceptable near the Mars schools and the Weatherburn Heights housing development, which are within a mile of the Geyer well pad.

Rex Energy and the township argued that shale gas development is not an industrial use because the earth-moving, lights, noise and traffic involved in well drilling are temporary.

They also assert that shale gas development helps to preserve agricultural areas because it precludes housing developments.

The Geyers, who attended each of the nine long hearings in the winter and early spring of 2014, are relieved at the latest court’s decision.

“Sometimes justice takes a really long time,” said Kim Geyer, who is a county commissioner. “We have been patient as a family and have never stopped believing that the law would prevail.”

She said two of the six wells planned for her farm are complete and gas is being piped out from them, and four are yet to be drilled. She said Rex Energy has not said when those wells will be developed.

If an appeal of the Commonwealth Court decision is denied at the state Supreme Court, the issue will end.