It is important for Lycoming County to understand gas drilling impacts so revenue from a gas drilling impact fee can be spent where it is needed most.
On Friday the county took a step closer toward that understanding by hosting Marcellus Shale impact focus groups that studied the issues of housing and water and sewer.
Findings by the housing group revealed significant changes in the county's housing landscape, including skyrocketing rents that have resulted in local residents being pushed out in favor of high
Debbie Tollett of Delta Development Group writes down impacts in a breakout group during the Marcellus Shale Impact Analysis Housing and Water/Sewer Focus Group at the commissioners’ boardroom Friday. When it comes to housing, Tollett records impacts such as “landlords pushing locals out,” as seen here.
er-paid gas industry workers, and a rise in homelessness among working families.
The gas industry is a "game changer" that is turning municipal water and sewer planning efforts prior to the arrival of the industry on its head, according to the water and sewer group.
Information collected by the groups will become part of a study that will identify key impacts and establish a clear link between those impacts and gas drilling activity, Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland said.
"We need to prioritize and identify impacts so they can be funded and handled," Wheeland said.
Wheeland said he is frustrated with claims that gas exploration will spell doomsday for the region and equally frustrated by claims that it will create a utopia here. Wheeland said he expects the actual impacts of the industry will be somewhere between those two scenarios.
The water and sewer focus group was comprised of municipal and private water system and wastewater treatment plant operators.
The housing group was broken into four separate sub groups comprised of municipal officials; human service agencies; landlords, real estate and banking; and gas industry representatives.
The work conducted by the focus groups will quantify locally the statewide impacts identified by Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, said Wheeland.
"We are going to collectively concentrate on Lycoming County," Wheeland said. "We need to know exactly what the impacts are and separate fact from fiction."
Wheeland and Dr. Vincent Matteo, president of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, held seats on the advisory commission, which identified impacts in housing, water and sewer, transportation, and emergency, health and human services.
Another focus group session studying transportation and emergency, health and human services is scheduled for March, said Debbie Tollett of Mechanicsburg-based consulting firm Delta Development Group Inc.
Delta Development and county Department of Planning and Community Development staff moderated the focus groups.
Housing focus group data will be used along with data collected from previous studies such as Lycoming College's research on gas industry impacts on housing and Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center's workforce needs assessment.
"We are going to build on and compliment previous studies, not duplicate them," Wheeland said.
Other data studied included drilling activity, employment and wage trends, housing and real estate records and housing units lost due to the September flooding.
Water and sewer focus group data will be used along with data collected from state Department of Environmental Protection well counts and production and waste reports, water management plans and well completion reports.
"No one form of data tells the whole story," Tollett said, adding that even with the information at hand a complete picture of gas drilling impacts is not available.
It is hoped that the focus groups will help complete that picture, she said.
Following the breakout sessions, the groups met to discuss their findings.
It was revealed that average housing rents, especially in three- and four-bedroom units, is higher than samples taken from Craigslist and other listings.
There also appears to be trends in which moderately-priced owner-occupied housing is being bought by investors and turned into rental property.
Due to the lack of affordable housing, there have been increases in homelessness, even among working families, or instances of families living in houses previously considered unliveable.
Water and sewer planning prior to the gas industry did not anticipate the extensive needs of the industry.
"And because the industry is so big, it's unpredictable," said county Transportation Planner Mark Murawski, who spoke on behalf of the water and sewer focus group.
The impact on water and sewer will be determined by the volume of drilling activity and drilling activity will be determined by factors such as industry-related legislation, changes in technology, environmental regulations and changes in the market place.
The impact study should be complete by the end of June, said Darren Asper, Delta Development Group vice president.