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claysh@gmail.com

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Okay...just got back from the Ligonier Township meeting and wanted to share my thoughts.

I'm just gonna ramble, if you don't mind.  I'll try to mind my spelling and not make too many people angry.

As I drove into the driveway of the municipal building I was greeted by our police chief who directed me to our K-9 officer who showed me where to park.  I'd like to first say that this was a great move.  It was good organization and also a reminder to everyone that law enforcement was on the premises, just in case someone wanted to go nuts.

The room was packed but there was seating available for all. Folks who wanted to speak put their name on a sign up sheet.  I didn't intend to speak, I was there to support those whose views fell in line with my goofy libertarian perspective.  I call it goofy because people do have a hard time grasping what it means.  I am often called a conservative by some and just as often called a liberal by others.  That's the funny thing about being libertarian, we don't fit the molds.

Following a short bit of business, the planning commission announced that they would allow everyone who wanted to speak get their chance but they decided to limit each person to 3 minutes. Though some folks in the audience groaned about the limitation, when you are at a podium, 3 minutes is really a fairly long time unless you are a rambler.  That said, I believe the planners were generous in the time department.  They really didn't have to call time except for a few.

As I sat there I did wonder if there would be any brave soul who might stand up to support the business of mining.  One fellow did.  Though it seemed his direct experience was in vertical fracking - I gather he is retired now - he does understand mining and has a reasonable grasp of what's happening in our region. He made the point that there are many horizontal mining operations in Indiana County with good records. He also said that the gas here in Ligonier Valley is dry gas and that the miners would be more likely to go elsewhere to find wet gas.  I'm not sure what that means.  I'll have to Google it, but he did say that eventually horizontal mining would come to this area.  He doubted that the price point would make it worthwhile in his lifetime but he figured that someday, the economics would be in line for "fracking" [or as I like to call it horizontal drilling] to make a comeback in Ligonier. I clapped for him because he had the guts to stand up and share his knowledge and he's right in my book.  There are lots of wells with no safety problems.  The ones with problems get the press from anti-fracking folks.  He's also right that when the economics are right, drillers will come to Ligonier.

Now we get to the heart of the matter - planning. I'm putting this next thought in caps because it's important.  WE WOULD HAVE HAD A MORE PRODUCTIVE MEETING IF THE PLANNERS HAD EXPLAINED TO EVERYONE THAT FRACKING IS ALREADY PERMITTED IN LIGONIER TOWNSHIP.  I'm going to underline the next thought in addition to caps. THE MAP IN PLAY IS AN ATTEMPT TO LIMIT THE AREAS WHERE FRACKING CAN TAKE PLACE BECAUSE RIGHT NOW THERE ARE NO LIMITATIONS.  Get it?

Read that again.  Now, if you get that, then you would realize that most of the comments made tonight were totally off subject.  Most people thought the township is considering allowing fracking.  Fracking is already allowed.  The township is attempting to limit fracking to certain areas.

The people who got my applause tonight were all anti-frackers [except for the brave mining guy] BUT their comments spoke to the subject, which was how you draw the map and where fracking might be allowed.

I am not anti-fracking. I thank the frackers every time I fill my gas tank.  I do believe in careful planning, however.  For instance, we live in a watershed for crying out loud.  That watershed must be carefully incorporated into the map so that potential water flow from a fracking area could not make it's way into the watershed.

Next, I am a believer in private property rights and it galls me when politicians take rights from people.  It galled me when Ligonier Borough took away the rights of people to rent space in the Diamond District to non-retail businesses.  It galls me that Ligonier Borough is working with the YMCA to impair a residential section of town and take away my right to drive down an historic alley.  It galls me that Ligonier Borough allows insanely bright lights in some commercial establishments that sit next to residential homes.  So, it also galls me that Ligonier Township is considering changing conservation districts into areas where fracking would be permitted. How do you justify taking those rights from property owners?

It also galls me when lawmakers ignore existing law.  I'm having a hard time grasping how the current comprehensive plan is being ignored. One speaker - my favorite speaker of the evening - raised this issue eloquently. She spoke of the framework of law in which we must work and I agree.  This is a nation of laws and we expect our lawmakers and volunteers in local government to respect the existing structure.  Apparently this new zoning ordinance doesn't flow with the comprehensive plan so Ligonier Township is taking the position that the comprehensive plan is out of date and ignoring it?

After everyone had their say, the solicitor suggested to the chair that he see if there are any motions with a second and if so, then each member of the commission should take a moment to offer their comments, then they should vote.  Some members of the audience objected because I think they expected the commission to have a chit chat with the audience and to answer questions that had been raised in the public comments.

The chair followed the suggestion of the solicitor and the final vote was to send [recommend?] the ordinance to the supervisors with two comments.  I confess that I'm a bit confused about the 650 feet.  I haven't read the ordinance and from what I read in the paper, I thought the 650 was a setback perimeter protecting an occupied dwelling from surface operations. The planner who suggested that they reconsider the 650 feet said something about water and so that confused me.  Maybe I didn't hear him correctly. There was another comment but I couldn't hear it because the audience was upset and some people were yelling.

After saying hello to Elizabeth, our Ligonier Living contributor with a liberal bend, I walked out thinking about how frustrating the whole session seemed to be for the audience and the planners.  Both groups had unrealistic expectations in my view.

The planners thought people would have a better understanding of the subject and they were visibly frustrated by the ignorance displayed by most folks who don't do planning for a living or as a volunteer.  In this case, the planners are the professionals in the room, even though they are volunteers, they have received counsel and training.  The audience are the lay people, and with few exceptions, they don't understand planning and zoning.  It would have been very helpful if someone had given a good little civics lesson combined with an overview of existing rules and how the proposed rules tie into that. It would have made the evening more fruitful but that is an unrealistic expectation on my part.  I don't think planners have the obligation to educate the public but I still think it would have helped.

The audience, with some exceptions, think they live in a democracy and don't understand how government works.  That's a shame.  We have a crappy system for teaching civics.  I don't know how to fix that.  The bottom line is that if you really want to have a say, you need to run for office or volunteer to serve.  Those who do, get to rule - within the structure of law.  You want to rule, you have to do the work.

As far as ruling within the structure of law, well this is where lawsuits come into play and if the Ligonier Township supervisors aren't careful to follow the rules, they are likely to face legal action.  These folks really don't like fracking and if you can't figure out a way to address the concerns raised tonight - existing comprehensive plan, watershed protection, maintenance of conservation districts, then I think you'll have a huge battle in court.

Okay. That's the end of my ramble.  Good night!