Latest edition of the Shale Gas Roundup is now available. A product of the Natural Gas Resource Center, the newsletter brings a local perspective to major developments that will affect the region for years to come. A downloadable version of the April/June 2014 edition is available on the website, pottercountypa.net (click on the Natural Gas tab to access this and all past editions). Copies can be printed directly from the website. They are also available as supplies last at the Commissioners Office in the Gunzburger Building. Contact Dawn Swatsworth at 814-274-8290, Ext. 207, to arrange for pickup. The April/June edition includes a new, more attractive layout style. Among the featured stories are:
- Gas Numbers Are Big (And It’s Just Getting Started)
- Appellate Court Backs Local Control Of Drilling
- New Company Eyes Utica Shale Bounty In Region
- Unraveling Mystery Of Local Public Water Supplies
- Regional Partnership Forms To Boost Local Gas Consumption
- Drilling Sand Station Returns To Emporium
- Next Round Of Impact Fee Revenue Coming In Late June
- Seeking Local Government Share Of State Forest Gas Royalties
- Who’s Drilling Shale Gas Wells In Potter County?
Meanwhile, a new online presentation from Penn State Extension illustrates equipment and practices used in shale-gas drilling and production — seismic testing, site preparation, well drilling, hydraulic fracturing, water storage, spill containment, pipelines, and compression. It also shows examples of materials used to protect wetlands and restore a well site. ”An Illustrated Guide to Shale Gas Drilling Equipment and Practices in Pennsylvania,” is available at http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/wildlife/marcellus-shale/illustrated-guide.
About 20 environmental science students at Oswayo Valley High School participated in a panel discussion about gas production and related issues, interacting with a panel of people who are well-versed on different aspects of the topic. Faculty member Bruce Kemp organized the discussion, which touched on environmental issues, economic/employment forecasts, regulatory standards, media responsibilities and many other topics. The students were well-prepared and posed some challenging questions. Shown from left are: front — Jim Maxson and Brice Benson, independent oil and gas producers, and Monica Thomas, local news reporter and columnist; back — Oswayo Valley biology teacher Bruce Kemp; Potter County Commissioner and County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. Natural Gas Task Force member Paul Heimel; and Mark Stephens, a geologist and water protection specialist with the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Resources.
Another study has confirmed that a high proportion of area children do not have access to quality pre-kindergarten programs. Research shows that many of them will be behind their peers in education, social skills and other essentials when they start school. Many will never get caught up. Starting the next generation in Potter and five other area counties on the right foot is the lofty mission of an Early Learning Investment Project (ELIP) that will soon be unveiled. Bob Esch, vice president of American Refining Group in Bradford, will be leading a kick-off event at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport from noon to 2:30 on Wednesday, April 30. To register or learn more, call the Potter County Education Council at 274-4877. Esch is also taking his mission to Cameron, McKean, Elk, Clearfield and Jefferson counties.
“Our biggest problem is the number of children who aren’t engaged in any type of early learning program,” said Esch. “We don’t have enough providers. Smaller communities and school districts just aren’t equipped to serve the number of children in need.” Almost two-thirds of the pre-kindergarteners in Potter County are not exposed to any formalized education and socialization programs. A limited amount of federal funding for ELIP has been approved for Pennsylvania. Support has also been solicited from the business community, as well as charitable foundations.
While early childhood education isn’t cheap, it’s considerably more cost-effective than trying to fix problems later on in a child’s life, according to Esch. He cites one study projecting a 100-to-1 return on each dollar invested in early childhood development. The value of programs such as Head Start, Pre-K Counts and Keystone STARS is well-documented. Participants are 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school and continue their education. Children without access to early education programs are more likely to quit school, more likely to become teen parents, more likely to commit crimes, and more likely to become dependent on alcohol or other drugs as well as social support services. ELIP partners hope to involve educators, non-profit organizations, family centers, health care providers, government agencies and the business community. Most importantly, parents will also be involved so that they are better-equipped to nurture their children. Esch said he is sold on the project’s value and will be persistent. “These children are everybody’s future, so we all have a stake in this.”
Dog license enforcement officers are canvassing neighborhoods throughout the region to check canines for 2014 tags. They’re empowered to levy fines as high as $300 and associated court costs for violations. Licenses are required for dogs that are at least three months old. Annual licenses cost $8.45, with a $2.00 discount for dogs that are spayed or neutered. Discounts of $2.00 per license are available for older adults and people with disabilities. Lifetime licenses are available for dogs that carry identifying microchips or tattoos. These must be purchased in-person at the County Treasurer’s Office. All license applications require owner contact details and information about the dog’s name, age, breed and color.
In Potter County, licenses are available through the county’s website, pottercountypa.net (click on Departments/Treasurer’s Office), or at the Treasurer’s Office in the Gunzburger Building. Applications printed from the county’s website (pottercountypa.net) should be filled out and mailed with payment to County Treasurer, 1 N. Main St. Suite 202, Coudersport PA 16915. There is a $2.00 fee for online orders, which are usually processed within one to two working days. There are benefits to using the online service. Police agencies and dog law enforcement officers have access to the system to facilitate return of lost dogs through license numbers. The site also offers a free service through which owners of lost pets can upload a picture and information.
The Potter County Commissioners have joined their counterparts from across Pennsylvania in asking state lawmakers to reform the outdated funding system for 911 emergency communications systems that counties are legally required to operate and staff. A funding mechanism involving monthly surcharges on telephone bills has failed to generate enough revenue to cover those costs and counties have been forced to turn to local taxpayers to cover the gap.
County officials have been working with the Pa. Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), legislative committees, emergency management professionals and others to forge a solution that will not unduly burden county taxpayers. Agreement has been reached on most elements of a bill that will be introduced in the legislature soon. The bill provides for comprehensive reform. Objectives include ability to accommodate all current and emerging communication technologies (including social networking platforms) and consolidation. Three separate elements of the law – wireline, wireless, and VoIP – would be blended into a unified system for planning, funding, establishment of allowable costs and auditing. Current structure is a monthly surcharge ranging from $1.00 to $1.50 per month for wireline, and $1.00 per month for wireless and VoIP. Wireline fees have not changed since 1990 and the wireless and VoIP fees were keyed to the 1990 wireline rates. Intent of the original law was to fully fund counties’ eligible 911 costs. This presumed counties would have an initial capital cost to install the systems, and then the funds would be used for system operation and periodic equipment replacement.
That expectation was unrealistic. The onslaught of technological change was unforeseen and dramatically altered the ability of the funding structure to meet county needs. The need to address the funding stream is immediate, due to the June 30 expiration of the wireless telephone subscriber surcharge.
Support is growing for a concerted lobbying campaign with big implications for the local tax base. The mission is to persuade the state legislature to pass two bills that would bring much-needed tax relief to counties with a large proportion of state-owned land. Starting less than three weeks ago in Potter and Cameron counties, the campaign has gained support in several other counties with large expanses of tax-exempt state forest, game and park lands. With such a high proportion of acreage removed from the tax base, the responsibility for funding school district, municipal and county governments has grown too burdensome as tax rates have risen.
Two lawmakers representing the region in Harrisburg, Sen. Joe Scarnati and Rep. Martin Causer, have signed on to the local campaign. It has also garnered support from the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. and organizers have approached the Pa. School Boards Assn., Pa. State Assn. of Townships and the Pa. State Assn. of Boroughs to join. Their mission is to capture enough votes in the House and Senate for passage of two bills:
- HB 444 would carve out 20 percent of the revenue from timber sales and natural gas production royalties on state forest land for the host school districts, counties and townships/boroughs.
- HB 2112 would increase the amount of annual payments made “in lieu of taxes” for state-owned land by 50 percent, to $1.80 per acre being paid to the school district, county and municipality.
In Potter County, some 291,128 acres, or 42 percent of the county’s total acreage (691,985), is state-owned (shown above in green and orange). Another 287,079 acres are enrolled in the state-mandated “Clean and Green” program (shown in blue), and therefore taxed at a fraction of its value. That leaves just 16 percent of the county’s total acreage (shown in white) being taxed at its market value to support school districts, townships, boroughs and the county. However, within those white pockets are other tax-exempt properties — churches, government-owned real estate, etc. Plus, a significant portion of that 16 percent includes camps, cabins and other seasonal residences that have low value, further sapping the tax base.
Most lawmakers representing rural districts are expected to support HB 444 and HB 211. However, garnering support of House and Senate members from other districts will be more of a challenge.