WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Commission and the Brooke Hills Park board met Tuesday to discuss a proposed natural gas transmission line that would cross the park.
The commission on Aug. 23 approved an easement allowing Appalachia Midstream Services, an affiliate of Chesapeake Energy, to extend a gas line across three parcels at the park owned by the county, pending approval by Brooke County Prosecutor David B. Cross.
Used to transport natural gas to Chesapeake's customers, the line would extend from Pearce Run through property in both the commission's and park board's names to the Keith Smith property at the park's other end.
WORKING TOGETHER — Officials from Brooke County, the Hammond Public Service District, Beech Bottom and Wellsburg have teamed to fund an engineering study for the establishment of emergency links between water lines serving the Hammond PSD, Wellsburg and Beech Bottom. Representing the four groups at the Sept. 6 Brooke County Commission meeting were, from left, County Commissioners Bernie Kazienko and Norma Tarr; Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti; Bob Sadler, Hammond PSD superintendent and chairman of the Beech Bottom water board; County Commissioner Marty Bartz and Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne. -- Warren Scott
But Bill Watson, legal counsel for the park board, told the commission Tuesday the park board owns the land and is given by state law the power to control its use.
Watson said some of the park's land is in the county's name because it was used toward matches for grants secured for the park over the years, but that doesn't change the board's authority over its use.
He added when the land was donated by the Gist family, it was given for the purpose of recreational use, a restriction noted with its deed.
Watson said for this reason, any revenue generated by leasing or easement of park property should be returned to the park to provide recreational activities.
Kazienko asked whether allowing natural gas wells to be drilled at the park violates the deed restriction.
Watson said the Attorney General's office has advised the park board may lease park property, provided the revenue is used for the park.
Asked if the commission has approved the easement, Kazienko said it hasn't and that the proposed agreement from Appalachian Midstream Services still is being reviewed by Cross.
Watson said he has concerns about language in the agreement, and the commission agreed to relay those concerns and the park's opinion about the land's ownership to Cross.
Kazienko told Watson and park board members, "If it (ownership) reverts back to the park board, it does. If we have no authority in it, we have no authority in it."
County Commissioner Norma Tarr said whatever the outcome, she will remain neutral because her husband, Henry, is a member of the park board.
Asked whether the park board has been approached for an easement, Janice McFadden, the park's manager, said it's in negotiations with Appalachian and another company.
Park officials also updated the commission on natural gas drilling at the park. Earlier this year the park board entered into an agreement with Chesapeake to drill for natural gas in a wooded area at the rear of the park. The drillers had planned to enter from Pearce Run Road, but the company must obtain a separate permit from the state Division of Environmental Protection to cross the creek.
For this reason, the drillers will be using the park's main road instead.
McFadden said to create less disruption, Chesapeake officials have agreed not to begin work until after the Brooke County Fair, to be held this weekend; and to work around the Brooke Hills Spooktacular, a spookhouse held each weekend in October.
She said the park board will receive a $750,000 fee for signing the lease, but it's turned out mineral rights for the land to be drilled belong to descendants of the Gists who live out of the area, not the park.
McFadden said it's not been determined if natural gas will be drawn from park property, entitling it to royalties.
Park board member Walter Ferguson said natural gas drilling has the potential to be a major economic boon to the area, but only if state and local officials find ways to capitalize on it.
"If not, we're still going to be a poor state," he said.
Also on Tuesday, county officials discussed complaints about truck traffic in various parts of the county.
Kazienko said a Colliers woman complained to him about the loud noise created by large trucks using jake brakes as they travel on Mechling Hill Road.
He said that road has seen an increase in traffic since a stripmining operation began in nearby Pennsylvania.
Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson said the brakes can be noisy but it's safer for the drivers to use them than not on the steep road.
Ferguson said officials and residents should prepare for heavier truck traffic on state Route 27 and Rabbit Hill and St. John's roads, all areas where natural gas drilling is slated to occur.
In recent months, the sheriff has told the commission of meeting with contractors to stress the importance of traveling at safe speeds and following traffic laws.
But he said residents should be courteous also and slow down when large trucks approach on narrow roads.
Kazienko noted crews with Chesapeake have paved and repaired country roads they use to reach drilling sites.
The commission also acknowledged officials from the Hammond Public Service District, Beech Bottom and Wellsburg, who each have contributed $2,750 toward the cost of an engineering study for proposed emergency water line connections between the two municipalities and the Hammond PSD.
Bob Sadler, Hammond PSD superintendent, said temporary links between the three water systems would reduce the need for boil orders when line breaks occur and help to maintain fire protection when some water systems are disrupted by power outages or floods.
He said state and federal officials have been approached for funds to construct the connections.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)