Crowd packs fire hall to vent about gas drilling effects

HUGHESVILLE – On Thursday, the last of four town hall meetings hosted by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, at the beginning of the new legislative session brought out the most constituents.

It also was one of the more vocal groups he encountered.

Everett, who represents the 84th Legislative District, has hosted town hall meetings in Antes Fort, Picture Rocks and Montoursville in the past two weeks.

Several people spoke out Thursday night at the Hughesville Volunteer Fire Co. about the impacts of natural gas drilling and how it’s personally affected them.

One man who lives in the Green Valley Road area and now says he is living with contaminated water from nearby drilling operations said he didn’t get the information from the government officials he sought and was left to find his own answers.

The man said he placed calls to the state Department of Environmental Protection and gas company Range Resources on his own.

“We were apparently able to do what you were not able to do,” the man told Everett.

Everett apologized for the delay and said he is working to get DEP to take responsibility for taking a leading role in resolving residents’ problems.

Penn Township resident Alison Rupert said she lives about 1,200 feet from a compressor station. She told Everett she recently saw a study that showed that the gas-powered piece of equipment may be producing extremely high levels of nitrogen oxide.

“It scared me to death,” she said.

Ralph Kisberg, of Williamsport, president of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, said big gas companies simply wield too much power to be changed by state government.

Everett said natural gas drilling fees – known as Act 13 – paid by gas companies have brought substantial financial resources to local municipalities for a number of uses. He said Pennsylvania can both drill for natural gas and be a steward of the environment.

“I think we can do both. I know some people disagree with that,” he said.

Everett said reclaimed gas pad sites can serve useful purposes and actually help to promote wildlife.

“It’s now come to our backyard. It’s here,” he said of drilling operations.

The lawmaker also fielded concerns about cyber schools and their effects on local school districts.

East Lycoming School District Superintendent Michael Pawlik said taxpayers in his district are paying $500,000 a year for 45 students enrolled in cyber schools.

He said the organizations are largely unaccountable, do not meet state Department of Education Adequate Yearly Progress requirements and use taxpayer money to recruit students.

Pawlik said the district has no way of knowing if cyber school students are learning subject matter.

The $500,000 could support 7 1/2 teacher salaries, Pawlik added.

“You could see this building over time,” said Everett, a former school solicitor for the district. “It wasn’t a big deal at the beginning, but then came the (financial) bleeding.”

Everett said he intends to introduce legislation soon to help with the issue.

“A lot of these cyber schools are for-profit. That’s not what education is about,” he said. “Cyber schools aren’t a bad thing. They’re just out of control.”