Planner testifies at Inflection gas well hearing

Loyalsock Township’s conditional-use hearing for Inflection Energy’s application to construct a gas well site at 515 Hepburn Hill Road continued with the applicant presenting testimony from a professional land-use planner at the fire hall Wednesday night.

No decision was immediately announced as of presstime. Additional hearings may be held, but dates and times were not announced.

Inflection Energy called on Tom Shepstone, of Shepstone Management Co., an independent planning and research consultant, as an expert witness in regard to impact. The planner argues that, in his professional opinion, the applicant had satisfied the requirements of the district’s conditional-use zoning requirements.

In his professional opinion, which he bases off of previous experience in planning for municipalities and private industry throughout Pennsylvania, Shepstone argued that the well site will not cause any negative impact on the area.

“The Hepburn project will not create undue nuisance or serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians in the vicinity,” he said. “Also, the noise, glare or odor effects should not negatively impact adjoining properties or others in the district in any significant manner.”

In fact, he argued, the economic impact of the project should be positive on the area, citing past positive impact on property values in areas where Marcellus Shale activity exists.

Shepstone brought up the range of uses that are permitted in the proposed district such as greenhouses, outdoor entertainment, wind energy facilities and development commercial centers, which he said are potentially intense activities with significant impacts.

The planner compared the well site to the construction of a nursing home, which he said he oversaw in Wayne County.

Shepstone argued that both the gas well and the nursing home would have construction phases involving traffic of equipment and specialized materials, the well site’s impact would be temporary where as the nursing home would continue to have traffic of employees, visitors and deliveries constantly traveling through the area.

Following the construction phase, a building and parking lot would remain above ground and there would probably be more light disrupting the surrounding area than a gas well site, Shepstone said.

Finally, Shepstone claimed that Loyalsock Township’s regulations are a bit unusual in that they regulate what he said is essentially construction activity as well as the ultimate use.

The planner said that in his work as a consultant to other municipalities he would discourage them applying construction conditions in their approval of a well site because if the said conditions were challenged in court, they would not hold up.

However, while questioning Shepstone on the supervisors’ behalf, Charles Greevy, township solicitor pointed out that the township has the right to apply conditions it believes pertain to safety, noise, light or traffic and the construction phase is included in that decision.