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Town calls on Tomblin for gas drilling regulations

May 14, 2011
By IAN HICKS - Special to the Brooke Scene , The Herald-Star

BETHANY - The signs of natural gas drilling are everywhere in Bethany, according to town officials who on May 4 urged state leaders to act with haste in addressing concerns about the booming industry.

With multiple gas well sites within a few miles of the town and Bethany College, Town Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special legislative session to consider new regulations on drilling. The vote was 4-0, with Councilman Ted Pauls absent from the meeting.

Councilman Patrick Sutherland introduced the measure, which cites water quality, increased traffic hazards and inadequate funding to hire enough Department of Environmental Protection inspectors to control the industry among residents' concerns.

"They're not the bad guys," Sutherland said of drilling companies. "... But I am for responsible development."

Councilman James Forrester noted, "Some people feel it can't be done responsibly."

Forrester said he's worried about the condition of W.Va. 88 near Bethany, which has deteriorated under the strain of increased commercial truck traffic. He said northbound motorists often cross left of center to avoid a damaged portion of the road across from the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department.

Council will send a final draft of the resolution to state legislators serving the area, Tomblin's office and Brooke County officials.

In Brooke County, Chesapeake Energy is drilling at sites near Camp Run and Locust Grove roads and W.Va. 88 near Bethany, Brady's Ridge Road near Wellsburg and Apple Pie Ridge Road near West Liberty.

Council members said they feel the resolution is a step in the right direction, pointing out similar resolutions by other communities and Wellsburg's recent enactment of an ordinance banning drilling within city limits and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," within one mile of the city. That ordinance passed its first reading and could be voted on again next week.

"Our voice in terms of the state is small because of our population," Sutherland said of Bethany. "But I think it's a cumulative effect."

Last week, about 20 people attended a meeting organized by town resident Kimberly Lawless, to discuss concerns. Lawless presented some of their comments to council on Wednesday.

One resident counted 30-40 trucks passing by in an hour. Some said they've been run off the road by trucks and others said they feel they're not being informed adequately about what's going on around them.

Town Recorder Cindy Hoffman said Mayor Jay Eisenhauer, who missed Wednesday's meeting due to illness, is waiting to hear from Chesapeake representative Amy Dugan about holding a public informational meeting. That meeting should take place later this month, though no date has been set.

In other business, council passed the second reading of an ordinance to join five other small communities in a pilot program to allow residents to vote early by mail in municipal elections. Bethany's election is June 14. Hoffman said the program will save the town money, as she no longer will be required to open on Saturdays leading up to Election Day - and pay two staffers to be present - for early voting.

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