Marcellus Shale: Providing safer, sustainable waterways

By on December 18, 2013

By:

REBECCA LEFEVER Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

As reported in our borough council coverage, continued improvements will soon be made to the Santo Domingo Creek and Lititz Run thanks to a grant from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund.

The $300,000 grant was awarded to the borough just before Thanksgiving after nearly a year of discussion, planning and work by local government leaders, organizations and conservation groups.

Lititz Borough Council President Karen Weibel said she hopes the funds will allow for "a continuance of the work being done to restore the Lititz Run and its tributaries, which in turn positively impacts stormwater flows, water quality, and makes for a more viable watershed."

It was announced in 2012 that gas well drillers would have to pay an impact fee that would go back to local and state agencies, according to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. The fees vary each year based on natural gas prices, but in 2012, drillers paid up to $45,000 per well, according to the association’s website.

The Marcellus Legacy Fund receives 40 percent of the total revenue from the impact fee. About 15 percent of that is distributed to counties for "environmental initiatives," which include trails, waterways, greenways and community parks, according to the land trust.

Rep. Steven Mentzer, Lititz’s representative in Harrisburg, said in an email that he worked hard to convince policymakers that the funds were important to many natural resources in the area.

"Not only is Lititz Run and the Santo Domingo Creek within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, if you have ever driven past Wilbur Chocolate you know it is of great value to the borough’s residents," Mentzer said.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority has already helped direct $5.6 million to 32 stream restoration projects in Pennsylvania, Mentzer added. In the past two years, $400 million has been collected through the impact fees to assist in environmental improvements, he said.

"It’s a neat concept," said Michael LaSala, director of product development and management with LandStudies in Lititz. "It’s not just restoring the stream, but it’s bridge improvements, park assistance and education components."

Borough manager Sue Barry said the grant will help provide "improvements by way of removal and control of invasive plant species, stabilization and revegetation of disturbed areas, construction of channel improvements and bank stabilization from the pedestrian bridge to the Locust Street bridge."

The grant application, which, LaSala said, was one of the most in-depth he has ever seen, took several months of researching how the money would be applied and proving that Lititz had a need for the funds.

"It had a lot to do with our backyard," LaSala said. "I’m a Lititz resident, my kids play at (Lititz Springs Park) and it just plays in to that community impact of knowing the improvements that we need."

There’s noted erosion, LaSala said, between Lititz Springs Park and Oak Street. There also are areas that lead to sediment in the Chesapeake Bay, something the borough is committed to preventing thanks to Permit MS4, which requires municipality-owned land to follow certain regulations, LaSala said.

A lot of esthetic factors also play in, meaning that the park and municipal buildings can be updated through the funds. Officials also hope to ensure there is always a community platform in regard to flood prevention. An access point also will be created for students from Warwick School District, encouraging educational opportunities, LaSala said.

"It’s continuing on a lot of things that have already been done," he added.

Weibel said the formation of the Flood Control Committee helped the borough to allocate several borough projects under that group of volunteers.

"Anytime we can leverage public, private or matching funds to do a project we explore the opportunity," she said.

Despite some of the controversy surrounding Marcellus Shale the past few years, Mentzer said, "there has been increased safety structure and water well setback distance for shale gas wells."

"Notice to landowners on nearby shale well permits have been enhanced and it grants the state authority to terminate drilling licenses of companies that violate regulations," he said.

The money will be a big help to the borough, LaSala added, especially since it only requires a 15 percent match.

"Even that is difficult to come by these days," he said. "We did a lot of work off the clock to make this happen. We want to continue to do things that keep Lititz in the forefront… I think that’s part of what makes us America’s Coolest Small Town."

More GRANT, page A22