CONNOQUENESSING TWP — The township supervisors and the Butler County commissioners on Wednesday each solidified their positions on the Connoquenessing Woodlands’ contaminated water situation, and their stances were not well received by some residents of the development.
Both boards made it known that their ability to help residents of the development, where the water wells of several dozen families have become contaminated, is limited legally and financially, but both boards are making efforts to find a solution.
First, several Woodlands residents and supporters of their effort to have the county pay for public water service to the development spoke at the county commissioners meeting.
Diane Arnold of Middlesex Township told the commissioners that Woodlands residents aren’t seeking a handout, “they just want restored what was theirs before the (Marcellus gas well) drilling started.”
She also said she is worried about the infrastructure, property values and health impacts, both in the Woodlands and countywide, due to gas drilling.
“The two most important industries in Butler County are farming and tourism, both of which will suffer a huge impact from drilling,” Arnold said.
Commissioner Jim Eckstein reaffirmed his stance on the county paying to run individual water lines to residents whose water has become contaminated
“It’s going to have to come from both sides,” he said.
“We have an obligation to all citizens of Butler County. We must exercise discretion.”
Commissioner Bill McCarrier, board chairman, took offense to accusations made last month that the commissioners received bribes in the form of campaign donations or otherwise from the gas industry to curry their favor.
“It is a malicious, insulting and untrue statement,” he said.
He told several Woodlands residents at the meeting that they are approaching the issue wrong and need to organize, appoint representatives to speak on behalf of all of them, then meet with the commissioners for constructive discourse.
“We do want to help and we are trying to help,” McCarrier said. But he pointed out that allocation of gas well drilling impact fees isn’t guaranteed because “it never has been successfully proven that hydrofracking caused the loss of (clean) water in the Woodlands.”
On Wednesday night, the Connoquenessing supervisors met, although Supervisor Jack Kaltenbaugh was absent. They echoed some of the statements made by the county commissioners.
“If there was concrete evidence that we had something to stand on, we would act upon it,” Supervisor Terry Steinheiser told Woodlands residents who attended the meeting at the township municipal building.
He added that shallow gas wells predating current staunch regulations and mining operations that took place in the Woodlands could contribute to the problems.
“There’s a lot of geological things going on under that ground that we are working to understand,” Steinheiser said.
Supervisor Scott Longdon explained that he cannot say how much money the township would be able to commit to bringing public water to the Woodlands, if any, because “we don’t have any final figures on the cost.”
“Furthermore, we have no regulatory power over the entities conducting drilling operations. That’s not to say we are not attempting to come up with a long-term solution to your situation,” he said.