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Pike does not adopt impact fee legislation; Commissioners will wait for a well to appear

May 9, 2012

At the commissioners’ meeting on May 2, Pike County Commissioner Karl Wagner clarified the county’s decision not to sign the drilling impact fee legislation, called Act 13.

When he attended the recent convention of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), he spoke to Pamela Witmer, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC), asking if the county should approve the impact fee legislation, even though there are no drilled gas wells in the county.

It’s the PUC’s job to implement aspects of the Impact Fee Legislation, he said.

“She advised me that since we have no drilled wells, the county should not approve the legislation, even though 14 counties with no wells have already adopted the law,” Wagner said. He pointed out that 35 counties that do have working wells have signed the legislation.

Wagner asked if she would put her opinion in writing, and she agreed to send him such a letter. It was from this letter that Wagner spoke to the audience at the meeting.

The legislation clearly states that counties without wells need not sign, but this did not deter some counties from signing on, hoping that they could benefit from the impact fees.

“If we adopted the legislation, there could be a problem when the county gets a well and wants to share in the impact fees,” he said. “We could be challenged by the gas drilling company if we pass the legislation before we have a well and seek the funds from the impact fee later.”

For this reason, the county commissioners decided not to adopt the legislation.

When Act 13 was originally adopted by the state legislature, many county officials criticized a provision in it that prohibited any municipality from imposing controls through its zoning regulations over where drilling could take place. The legislation stipulates that if a municipality imposes zoning restrictions on a gas drilling company, the municipality may not share in the revenue flowing from the Act 13.

Pennsylvania House Democrats have objected to this and other provisions of the law and, in response last week, introduced a package of six bills, called the Marcellus Shale Compact, which would alter some of what are considered to be the most egregious aspects of the legislation.

Among other things, the compact would restore municipal zoning authority while still allowing counties and townships to participate in revenues from impact fees. Also, the compact would increase the amount of the fee, which now amounts to about a 1% tax on wells, which Democrats argue is far below other states with shale gas production.