JERSEY SHORE - A full house is expected for Friday night's continued Watson Township Zoning Board hearing on a gas company's proposal to convert the old Trading Post convenience store along Route 44 into office space, to store and pump water from Pine Creek up a mountain to natural gas well pads.
The hearing is set for 5 p.m. Friday and, in anticipation of a large crowd, it will be held in the Robert H. Wheeland Community Center, 1201 Locust St., Jersey Shore.
Pennsylvania General Energy Co. of Warren, is seeking "one or more special exception(s)/variance(s) for an existing building (the Pine Creek Trading Post) to be improved and used as office space for commercial operations, together with site improvements including overlay pavement, site screening, cleaning and decommissioning of the underground petroleum tanks and converting them to storage of water, removing the gasoline pumps and dispensers associated with the underground petroleum tanks and replacing them with underground pumps and piping for water and connecting the underground tanks and pumps through underground piping to a nearby water line that will serve the nearby Honniasont Main Pump Station," according to the public notice posted by the township.
The project is slated for the "property currently owned by Donald E. Confer and Joan B. Confer, situated at 4810 North Route 44 Highway (Watson Township) and is in a residential district," according to the notice.
PGE wants to buy the Pine Creek Trading Post, a now vacant convenience store, from Confer, who said he used to operate a bustling gas station, store and sporting goods equipment business for years.
So far as can be determined, PGE would have the first such commercial-industrial operation to sit directly along Route 44 in the valley. Other firms are seeking to withdraw water from Pine Creek and pump it up the mountainside to gas wells, notably Anadarko Petroleum Corp.
A natural gas well pad and a frac water lagoon sit on the mountaintop overlooking Waterville in the Pine Creek Valley.
PGE has a permit from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to withdraw up to .918 million gallons of water per day (peak) from Pine Creek at the Poust location "at a maximum instantaneous rate of withdrawal of 637 gallons per minute," according to its permit. The water may be stored on-site for a month or more during the setup period in large tanks (approximately 22,000 gallons each) or (in) stiorage pits and impoundments, the permit reads. SRBC staff recommended that the length of the permit approval be limited to four years.
Confer, meanwhile, has had the property on the real estate market for three years. The vacant building lies five miles north of Route 220, right near the Routes 44-973 junction.
Essentially, PGE wants to pump water from nearby Pine Creek to the Trading Post, using powerful underground pumps to send the water up the mountain to gas well pads and/or a storage lagoon.
Friday's hearing is a continuation of one held April 8, when a standing-room-only crowd at the Mifflin Township Building sat through three hours of testimony.
As part of the proposal, the township has asked PGE and the state for more information pertaining to underground storage tanks on the site, the possible impact on a nearby mobile home park owned by Dwayne Wasson, and impacts on the well and septic system for the former Trading Post. There also are traffic access issues to be addressed.
Key to Friday's hearing will be testimony from one or more PGE officials.
On April 8, a company representative was about to be called to testify by attorney William Carlucci, representing PGE, when it was decided to continue the hearing.
The hearing board consists of Chairman Brent Petrosky, William Wolfe and Dan Kizis.
It's unclear if the township planning board has weighed in on the proposal.
Emails to the township and board solicitor Benjamin Landon asking how the hearing will proceed and if the township planners have provided any recommendation on the issue were not returned.
Not far from the Trading Post location, PGE built a stone coffer dam on Pine Creek to install water pumping equipment, intending to pump water from Pine Creek to the Trading Post, then pumping it up the mountain to a gas well pad to hydraulically fracture gas wells in the Marcellus Shale.
However, the stone dam washed away when high water hit, and that didn't sit well with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Upon inspecting the dam at local residents' request, the DEP said it found the company did not build the dam according to its permit.
That is, PGE was supposed to build a sand bag coffer dam, or install a portable dam.
"Our inspection found that the type of coffer dam being constructed was not the type approved by your permit," the DEP wrote to the firm. "Additionally, dewatering of the excavation pit for the pump station was discharging sediment into Pine Creek, a high quality stream. Further investigation found that earch disturbances for this intake project ran up to the limit of disturbance for the Honniasont pipeline project, however, activites were not appropriately permitted."
DEP said it also found "excessive amounts of sediment, which is considered a pollutant, was being discharged from the site" into the creek. "Specifically, your company's use of filter bags for dewatering the excavation of the creek side pump station was insufficient at preventing excessive sediment loading to Pine Creek," the agency said.
The agency said PGE's actions "constitute a violation of ... the Clean Streams Law."
Whether the coffer dam project has any impact on the zoning board's decision remains to be seen. They are separate projects, though testimony from those opposed to the zoning exception may focus on PGE's track record with the dam.
DEP mandated that PGE notify the agency "in writing ... as to when the ... violations were or will be corrected and what steps are being taken to prevent their recurrence." It was unclear as of this morning if DEP had received a response and what corrective active was being taken.
Further, the DEP has asked PGE to "outline your intent to utilize the former Pine Creek Trading Post for water storage and transportation operations, and whether or not those operations will also utilize the Honniasont Trunk Line Pipeline Project facilities," according to the letter penned by Robert W. Everett III, a water quality specialist with DEP.
At the April 8 hearing, Carlucci presented four witnesses, including Bryan Pauling of Larson Design Group, Dan Confer, David Williams, a local real estate agent, and Lori Kappen, an engineer with Gannett Fleming.
The project calls for the creation of the office and an area in the front where water can be off-loaded from tanker trucks and pushed by two underground pumps capable of transporting the water through pipes up a hill to a transfer station.
Residents were permitted to ask questions on April 8, but not make generalized statements.
Some testimony focused on the trailer park nearby, the operation's impact on the safety of children and a school bus stop there.
PGE is busy in Watson Township.
The firm was granted a permit for pipelines on properties owned by Cynthia Breon, Donald and Andrea Breon, and Maplewood Farm.
Also, at or near the coffer dam operation, PGE has five permits for a 12x16-foot concrete building for electric equipment and an air compressor; a 10x10-foot concrete structure for water pumps; a 4x6-foot concrete vault for a water flow meter at 5099 Route 44; a 40x70-foot metal utility building for water pumps and a water tank at 4880 Route 44, and for a 2.2-mile flexsteel water pipeline to run from Pine Creek on David Poust's property to the meter station on Cynthia Breon's property.
Traffic continues to flow on Route 44, though mostly only for locals.
As of Tuesday, a section of Route 44 in northwestern Lycoming and central-eastern Clinton counties remained closed for bridge work, with detours set up west in Clinton County. But Route 44 north of Route 220 is open to Waterville, as well as to Route 414 through the Pine Creek Valley.
Motorists coming from the south and wishing to access Route 44 at Haneyville and points north of there should follow the detour signs. Route 44 remains open to Waterville and Route 414 from the south.The section of Route 44 closed to traffic is between Route 414 and Haneyville, according to PennDOT.