Supervisor says he won’t back out of water withdrawal hearings

Calls for Old Lycoming Township Supervisor John W. Eck to step down from his role in a conditional use hearing to allow a planned water withdrawal facility that provides fracking water for the natural gas industry won’t be heeded.

And Eck said there’s a good reason.

The conditional use hearing focuses on an application from Centura Development, 1000 Commerce Park Drive, to withdrawal up to 250,000 gallons of water a day from the Lycoming Creek watershed at its proposed Marcellus Operations Center at 3231 Lycoming Creek Road.

Four public hearings have been held so far on the matter, with at least another three scheduled. Testimony so far has included citizens’ questions to a project engineer hired by Centura Development to design site plans for the facility.

A hydrogeologist is scheduled to take the stand at the next hearing at 7 p.m on June 19 at the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Co. social hall, 1600 Dewey Ave.

Some residents have questioned Eck’s relationship to Centura Development’s owner Keith Eck. The two are cousins.

Supervisor Janet Hall recused herself from acting in an official capacity because she said she cannot be impartial.

Eck said he cannot step down from his role in the hearings because that would leave only one supervisor. He also said his relationship to Keith Eck would not affect an independent decision.

“I am of a belief that I can hear this matter fairly, without a predisposition for or against this application, but based on the evidence produced at the hearing and the applicable legal standard,” he wrote in a prepared statement.

“While Keith Eck is my cousin, and we have a cordial relationship, that does not mean that we are close. My relationship with Keith is no different from that of any number of people that I deal with as acquaintances and in the course of ordinary business. Certainly, I have absolutely no financial interest arising out of this project, whether direct, indirect or otherwise.”

John Eck also said the township’s solicitor advised him that being cousins is not a disqualifying family relationship.

Recusing himself would be the wrong thing to do, he said.

The solicitor “told me that if I were to disqualify myself, as has been suggested, what would occur is that the supervisors would then not have a quorum in order to make a determination on the application,” John Eck wrote.

“And because there would not be at least two votes in support of any decision, whether for or against or someplace in between, the matter would be deemed approved, which means the law would consider it to be accepted as presented by Centura, without conditions, comments, or any restrictions.”

John Eck said that supervisors sent two letters to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in February and March “expressing our concerns … for our residents relating to this water withdrawal application of Centura Development.”

The commission approved the company’s request for water withdrawal last December.