A special meeting of the Penn Township Board of Commissioners was held December 5, 2016 to address settlement of a all lawsuits between Apex Energy, LLC and the Township.
There was no discussion. The special meeting consisted of township commissioners reading one page of “conditions” for Apex to adhere to, and then a unanimous vote to approve the final settlement. There are 40 pages of a larger settlement document that was not made available to the public for review. There was no “informed” public comment period. The settlement automatically approves the Beattie and Draftina well pads that had previously been denied by the Zoning Hearing Board, and thus renders Protect PT’s appeal of the case before the Westmoreland Court of Common Pleas moot. The settlement also allows the hearings for Numis, Deutsch and Drakulic sites to appear before the Zoning Hearing Board.
Protect PT feels this decision was not permissible and violates our due process and constitutional rights. It was apparent that Resolution No.104-2016 would be passed without further discussion, without consideration of public comment, and that this meeting was a mere “formality.”
It was eluded that if the Backus, Numis, Deutsch and Drakulic permits aren’t approved, Apex will re-open its lawsuit against Penn Township. This settlement undermines the function and responsibility of the ZHB, which has no choice but to approve or face litigation. Essentially, the ZHB has no choice or power and this settlement is holding Penn Township hostage. In addition, this agreement hinders public input to weigh in on development in their community. Attorney for Protect PT, Ryan Hamilton with Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services stated, “Community participation is an important aspect of these zoning hearings and with this settlement, the community feels their concerns were not heard.”
According to Penn Township’s ordinance, unconventional gas drilling is not a Conditional Use, but rather a Special Exception Use. This designation means the Zoning Hearing Board, not the Commissioners, has the power to approve and deny these applications. “Apex did not fulfill their burden when they were in front of the Zoning Hearing Board, and now they want to go in through the back door,” said Gillian Graber, Executive Director of Protect PT.