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Creation of Water Resource Protection Zone a possibility

March 30, 2011

Mayor Sally Geyer is shown reviewing a zoning map of the City of St. Marys during Tuesday evening's special meeting between members of city council and the planning commission. Members of a special committee proposed creating a new zoning area called a Water Resource Protection Zone to encompass the city's watershed. Photo by Becky Polaski.

During a joint meeting between members of the St. Marys City Council and St. Marys Planning Commission to discuss ways to protect certain community resources, such as the water supply, from oil and gas drilling, the creation of a new Water Resource Protection Zone was proposed.
Planning Commission member Matt Quesenberry explained that he and fellow committee members - city solicitor Mark Jacob, city zoning officer Matt Pfeufer, and city councilman Dan Hepner - came up with the idea for the new zone after determining that there appears to be a legal precedent for a community to have the ability to determine which of its zoning areas would allow oil and gas drilling.
"Understanding that the basic premise is you can't say that [drilling] is not allowable in any zone," Jacob added.
Committee members explained that they believed creating a new zone was necessary due to the fact that the reservoir lies within the Rural Conservation Zone, an area where oil and gas drilling will likely be allowed.
"The idea was, perhaps, that we would consider a way that we would be able to define a boundary that would be including the reservoir itself and perhaps some feeder streams," Quesenberry said. "What you would do is actually redistrict that and call that something like a Water Resource Protection Zone. Then what would happen is that, by itself, becomes another standalone district and in that particular instance [drilling] would be not allowed."
Planning Commission member Tom Farley indicated that the St. Marys Water Authority may already have a map detailing the boundaries of the watershed, and Quesenberry recommended that the two groups meet with the authority to determine if the necessary delineations have already been made and if they can be utilized moving forward.
Quesenberry added that this sort of approach to limiting drilling in certain areas is, to the best of his knowledge, untested.
"It seems intuitive that we could do it this way, but everything is up to legal challenge so you can't say with any absolute certainty that if we decided to go down this road that somebody wouldn't say 'Well, that's spot zoning' or 'You're doing something you shouldn't be doing,'" Quesenberry said.
According to Quesenberry, one of the additional benefits from the creation of a Water Resource Protection Zone would be that it would also aid in protecting the city's water supply from possible contaminants outside of the drilling industry.
"You've got fuel stations, big box retailers, and [all kinds] of potential development that could be a contaminant to your water source," Quesenberry said. "That was another fallback position. We're not just singling out [drilling operations]. This may be something we should have thought about before. Maybe it's something to think about, regardless of drilling, to protect the water source."

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