NORTH BEND - A battle between development and protecting the area's scenic beauty and safety was played out to a packed house at the Chapman Township Fire Hall last night.
However, last night was only round one.
The township Zoning Hearing Board held a special hearing on a request by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to withdraw hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, near the Hyner Bridge, to support its drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region.
The less than one-acre site is at the foothill of the world-famous Hyner View, and is in the middle of the PA Wilds and Bucktail State Park, which drew the ire of many residents and state and local officials. The fire hall was packed with more than 100 on hand, as officials moved the meeting from the cramped township building nearby.
Those who spoke out against the plan also noted the large "bobtail" trucks would be pulling out onto Route 120 in an area that has a 55 mph speed limit and would haul up to 5,000 gallons of water at a time over the steep and treacherous Hyner Mountain Road.
Anadarko officials countered that safety and protection of the environment are their highest priorities, and the water pumping station would not protrude into the air and spoil the scenic Hyner View.
After nearly two and a half hours of testimony, the board recessed and will take up the matter at a yet-to-be-determined date and place.
Geologist Rane Wilson from Rettew Engineering Service, Lancaster, said the water withdrawal site will be between the state Fish and Boat Commission Boat Launch and the Hyner Bridge. The area is owned by Bob Maguire, with four acres of his 33-acre plot to be leased to Anadarko.
However, Wilson said, less than one acre will actually be used for the operation, which will include a submersible pump and a six-inch section of flexible pipe within a 24-inch PVC pipe, leading to two dry hydrants to feed water into the tankers.
The project also calls for the grading the road leading to the dry hydrants and a small parking area.
Wilson said the Susquehanna River Basin Commission has already approved Anadarko to remove a maximum of 720,000 gallons of water a day, but the proposed facility is not included in the permitted uses of an Agricultural and Forest Zone, leading to last night's hearing on a special exception to that zone.
He emphasized the SBDC authorized Anadarko to withdraw water only when an upriver gauge is over a specified volume of flow for 48 straight hours.
"In short, they're not going to be able to withdraw water 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Wilson said. "They'll only be allowed to draw when the pass byflow conditions have been met, i.e. spring, fall, winter Not during the boating season, summer season."
The trucks would enter the site from the north, fill up at the dry hydrant, pull out onto Route 120, go up Hyner Mountain Road and onto Route 44 to a drilling site.
Wilson said it would take between 10 and 20 minutes to fill a 5,000-gallon tanker truck, and the access road will not hold more than three trucks at a time and spill out onto Route 120.
Project Manager Edgar Perez agreed.
"We will not have more trucks coming than we can fill," he said. "It will never be our intent to have any trucks backed up."
Wilson said Anadarko picked that site after an "extensive evaluation process" for about two years where about a half-dozen locations were identified. He said three or four of those locations were along the Susquehanna River and one was along Pine Creek.
He said the company also received approval from the SRBC for a water withdrawal site in Renovo, but decided against that because of noise and traffic concerns.
The SRBC's permit for the Hyner site is effective for three years, Wilson said.
Several residents pressed Anadarko officials about safety concerns in that area.
James "Butch" Knauff, a 30-year member of the Chapman Township Fire Co., said he is concerned with a maximum of 144 trailer loads of water going into and out of the site daily, meaning one truck every 10 minutes.
At that rate, he said, trucks would meet on Hyner Mountain Road, which, he said, cannot handle two large trucks coming from different directions at the same time.
Further, Knauff said he is concerned about large trucks pulling from a stop onto Route 120 with other vehicles speeding by.
Engineer Seth Shafer from Rettew said there is adequate sight distance there, but other officials said no traffic studies have yet been completed there or for Hyner Mountain Road.
Those concerns were echoed by about a half-dozen other residents.
Perez said Anadarko currently has tanker trucks filling up at locations in Jersey Shore and Bellefonte hauling the water to the site along Route 44, and the shorter distance to the Hyner site should actually increase safety, with less trucks hauling for 40 or 50 miles one-way.
"My goal is to minimize the miles traveled," he said. "There are about 1,000 trucks required for each well. This is going to slow up travel on Route 120."
Resident William Probst also testified the Susquehanna River near Renovo, after being polluted with acid mine drainage for decades, is finally starting to clear up and he is concerned about any possible contamination.
Perez said Anadarko goes "above and beyond" regulations set forth by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"With us, it's safety first, then environmental and production," he said, adding all water the company uses in its sites is recycled and reused, and not put back into lined "ponds" because of the possibility the lining may tear.
Perhaps the strongest testimony came from current and former officials with organizations dedicated to protecting the environment.
Former state Rep. Dan Surra, who represented Elk and Clearfield counties until 2008, is now the senior advisor to the PA Wilds and is the executive director of Gov. Ed Rendell's Advisory Council on Hunting, Fishing and Conservation in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Surra, who said he is the "brainchild" behind the PA Wilds, urged the board to deny Anadarko's request.
He said Gov. Rendell has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to promote the PA Wilds 12-county region, including Clinton County, with the goal to develop sustainable communities utilizing their rich outdoor recreational opportunities.
While Surra noted the Marcellus Shale region can enrich the area not only with economic development but with energy independence, its development must proceed cautiously.
"As we have seen in the past, from the boom time in mining and timbering from decades long since passed, the potential exists for tremendous harm to be done to the region," he said. "In my opinion, it is neither prudent nor smart to place a water extraction facility in the very front of one of the most beautiful views, not only in the PA Wilds, but in the eastern United States.
"While I appreciate Anadarko's need to access the West Branch, I believe there must be a more suitable location for this facility."
Also speaking against the facility was former long-time district forester for the Sproul State Forest, Robert "Butch" Davy. He noted the Bucktail State Park Natural Area was created in 1933, and extends from Lock Haven to Emporium with millions of dollars invested in the area's tourism, including the Scenic Byway of Route 120.
"My concern is the safety hazard created by the more than 100 tri-axle tankers hauling water on a Scenic Byway within the Bucktail State Park Natural Area," Davy said. "Additionally, visitor travel will be denigrated for visitors trying to enjoy a relaxing, scenic drive. Hyner View is a relaxing, world-class view-scene and it highlights the natural beauty of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the historic Bucktail State Park Natural Area. Nearly every person who views the scene at Hyner View experiences a valuable and inspiring visual experience of a vast hardwood forest ecosystem.
"An industrial water-pumping site and heavy truck-traffic visible from Hyner View will have a significant negative impact on a viewing experience that is widely enjoyed by citizens from everywhere."
Ray Werts, president of the Western Clinton County Sportsman's Association, spoke against the proposal on several different fronts, saying it could create a safety hazard, it would be only a short distance from several events that draw hundreds of visitors annually, the roads could be damaged and it could take away from the area's aesthetic beauty.
Further, he said, it would be located across the river from a site that was recently purchased by the Nature Conservancy and turned over to the DCNR as a recreational river site.
Werts noted the PA Tour Guide recently displayed the Hyner View with the words of the late artist Andy Warhol: "Having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want."
Also, Werts said Gov. Rendell recently said preserving Hyner View and the PA Wilds is "a responsibility we do not take lightly... You will not find a greater destination in all the world, and we intend on keeping it that way."
He said WCSA understands the rights of private property owners to profit from lands they own, and the financial and energy needs of the state, however, his organization has been working for the preservation of that area's natural beauty since 1927, with over $500,000 invested.
About a half-dozen residents who signed to speak at the hearing were not heard from when it was recessed at about 8:30 p.m.
Zoning Board Solicitor Stephen Smith said the meeting will continue in the next three weeks after it is properly advertised and a court reporter is hired.