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City looking into drilling ordinance

February 15, 2011

City Councilman Dick Dornisch addressed members of city council and the planning commission during a joint meeting between the two groups on Tuesday evening. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of imposing oil and gas drilling restrictions within the city. Photo by Becky Polaski.

As gas and oil drilling becomes more prevalent throughout the area, municipalities are making the necessary efforts to attempt to ensure that their natural resources are protected. The City of St. Marys is no exception, and on Tuesday evening members of city council and the planning commission held a joint meeting to discuss the best way to move forward implementing oil and gas drilling restrictions within the city.
City Councilman Dick Dornisch was instrumental in orchestrating the meeting and he addressed the attendees prior to the start of the discussion to remind the group of what he said were its ultimate goals: to preserve the community's water resources and prevent intrusion on public and private property.
"I realized that there were municipalities that were running into problems because of the courts and so on, but thankfully there has been some rulings that the cities do have control over this, but through the zoning and planning boards more than through the existing old laws that are now two decades or three decades old and were put into operation before horizontal drilling was even thought of," Dornisch said. "It seems to me that it's incumbent on us as being in control of the future of the community of our children's and grandchildren's legacy here to do something before they're sitting on top of us."
Dornisch remarked that he believed the best direction for the city to take moving forward would be to have city solicitor Mark Jacob review a sample ordinance put together by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) and make whatever changes would be necessary in order for it to be applicable to the area.
"I find it very important to keep this thing as simple as possible and as understandable as possible," Dornisch said.
He also noted that he did not believe it was important for the group to get into the "nuts and bolts" of the matter during the meeting, but simply reach a consensus on how best to proceed.
Rather than write an entirely new ordinance, planning commission member Matt Quesenberry suggested that the matter may be best resolved by amending one of the city's existing zoning ordinances.
"[Regarding] protecting the water and the lands, the water issue, we can talk about some of that, but that's going to be much more difficult, as we know, regulating that through an amendment to the zoning ordinance. The land issue certainly could be," Quesenberry said.
Quesenberry also discussed the roles of both groups moving forward, noting that the planning commission's role is to recommend changes while city council, as the governing body, must chose whether to approve them.

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