Ligonier Township is ready to move forward with expanded regulations for oil and natural gas drilling.
The board of supervisors on Tuesday voted to set a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, during its regular meeting that night.
The supervisors likewise agreed to send the ordinance to the Westmoreland County Department of Planning and Development for a 30-day review.
The ordinance would amend sections in Ligonier Township’s zoning ordinance covering unconventional natural resource drilling — which is also known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
The environmental subcommittee under the Ligonier Valley Joint Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee spent months researching and developing the suggested protocols.
Solicitor Michael Korns asked the supervisors for further comments or changes to the ordinance. Supervisor Paul Knupp inquired about including any requirements for arranging truck trips around school bus schedules.
Korns explained that coordinating or restricting transportation schedules for drilling operations can be conditions that the township imposes upon a fracking company when it applies for a conditional use permit, once it considers all the reports that the company must submit according to the updated regulations.
“To impose a condition, we have to be able to support it with data,” Korns said.
The supervisors can vote whether to adopt the oil and gas ordinance after they hold the public hearing.
The board last month tabled its decision whether to schedule a hearing while it reviewed the draft document that the planning commission recommended in July.
The planning commission reviewed a geographic information system (GIS) map showing that increased setbacks between drilling sites and protected structures and streams would not completely ban fracking and create a legal issue for the township. The county planning department will also review the GIS map.
The Ligonier Beach Park Development Committee will host a second public forum to discuss the options for restoring and reopening Ligonier Beach from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, in the public works garage at the Ligonier Township Municipal Complex off Route 711 North.
In preparation for the meeting, which will also be broadcast over Zoom, the public can view the historic swimming pool and restaurant on Route 30 East in person from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19.
Now owned by Ligonier Township, the landmark closed after the 2017 season, suffered flood damage and has never reopened since.
The first public meeting to discuss ideas on how the township should use the property was held at Fort Ligonier in February. This second meeting, originally scheduled in March, was canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The township is holding the rescheduled meeting in the garage bay to avoid violating Pennsylvania’s limit of no more than 25 people for indoor events and gatherings.
Ligonier Township officials are adapting to the state’s social distancing and limited crowd measures by conducting meetings in the large open-air garage, upgrading the sound system in the indoor conference room and adding a camera to better stream meetings at the municipal building over the Zoom online video conferencing system.
The township is working with its IT consulting firm LVTech to install the new video and sound equipment following persistent technological difficulties in order to make meetings more easily accessible for residents who cannot or do not feel comfortable attending in person.
“These are things that we have to do because of COVID; we don’t know how we’ll be doing Zoom, how many meetings we’re going to have,” township manager Terry Carcella said.
Tuesday’s meeting was held in the garage, with the full board of supervisors plus most staff attending in person.
The supervisors also approved a five-year lease-to-own agreement with Municipal Leasing Consultants for interior lighting upgrades at the municipal building plus a boom mower to tend high grass and other vegetation.
The township will spend less than $71,000 over a five-year period for the equipment. The energy-efficient LED technology will pay for itself soon after, according to Carcella, saving the township about $4,500 annually on its electric bill.
The lighting fixtures are nearly 20 years old as they have not been updated since the municipal complex was built.
Ligonier Township will complete an impact survey from the Westmoreland County Board of Commissioners explaining how COVID-19 has affected its operations and increased its expenses.
The survey could be part of potential plans to disburse the county’s allocated federal CARES Act funds to local municipalities. Westmoreland County received more than $31.5 million through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the commissioners so far have launched two Westmoreland CARES grant programs for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Two key transfers into the general fund should help to reduce Ligonier Township’s projected 2020 year-end deficit to $140,000, according to Carcella.
The transfers include a $60,000 certificate of deposit that will soon mature, plus more than $52,000 from the Liquid Fuels account — money that Ligonier Township receives annually from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The municipality can use the latter to pay for labor and material costs related to roadwork.
“We’re still dealing with the deficit of income from taxes, extra expenses. This will make that up for this year. I’m pretty confident we’ll get through the year if we have these two moves made, but we won’t know that until we see the financials after this month,” Carcella said.
The township also hopes to shrink its expenditures, given there is no guarantee of federal or state relief. Carcella has not received any update from PennPrime on Ligonier Township’s claim under the pandemic clause of its liability coverage.
“It is a hazardous situation, but we have to be very careful about what we’re spending and how we’re spending it at this point in time,” Carcella said.
Ligonier Township will again apply for grant funding through the Westmoreland Conservation District’s Dirt, Gravel and Low Volume Roads program. The township has applied for the past five consecutive years and will focus on money for certain roads including Hidden Valley and Claycomb.
The Westmoreland County Sheriff’s office has suspended all satellite gun permit locations for the rest of the year including at the Ligonier Township Municipal Complex, Carcella reported. Gun permit applications will be processed by appointment only at the sheriff’s office in Greensburg.
Ligonier Valley Police Chief John Berger said about 90% of the 52 traffic citations administered over the last month came during a recent aggressive driving campaign. The police department expects to receive more funding in the next few months for another campaign.
In other business, the board voted to extend a full-time employment offer to public works employee Cord Kelly following his six-month probation period.
The Ligonier Township Supervisors have a work session scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.