BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
Opponents to a water pipeline planned to alleviate contaminated water wells on Thursday had their meeting shouted down by those who would benefit from the pipeline.
About 450 people packed the Elk Lake High School auditorium for the meeting called by a group which dubbed itself as “Enough Already.”
The majority of the crowd appeared to be in support of the group, which is challenging the necessity of a 12-mile long pipeline from Montrose to Dimock.
However, about a third of those present vocally favored the pipeline concept. Most were wearing light blue ribbons representing clean water.
The meeting’s main purpose was to give a presentation on why “Enough Already’ members believe the pipeline is a bad idea.
The pipeline was announced by the state Department of Environmental Protection on Sept. 30 as a way to provide clean water to residents whose wells were contaminated by methane gas migration.
“Our group is opposed to this DEP-mandated water line,” said Gretchen Backer, a Dimock Township resident.
She said at a total cost of $12 million, the pipeline to serve 16 homes would cost more than $700,000 for each family it benefits.
“There’s got to be a better solution,” she said.
“We are here to criticize how DEP has acted and is acting in regard to this pipeline proposal,” said William Aileo of Dimock Township, one of the organizers.
The group gave presentations from some experts who stated they believed the pipeline idea decision was made in haste, and there could be better solutions.
Throughout the presentation, residents who would be served by the pipeline and others occasionally shouted their objections to the presentation. The outbursts became louder and more frequent until after 90 minutes, during the question period, moderator William Aileo of Dimock Township decided the session was becoming too unruly, and called a halt to the proceedings.
At the start of the session, Aileo noted that his group does not dispute that some residents, especially those living in the Carter Road area, need help.
“Our group agrees that a permanent solution to providing residents of Carter Road is necessary,” he said.
However, he said they disagree with the method.
Much of the meeting consisted of a presentation by Dr. Robert Watson, an environmental and petroleum engineer formerly at Penn State. Watson stated he has been retained as an expert by Cabot, which brought shouts from part of the crowd.
After giving a detailed explanation of gas exploration in Pennsylvania, Watson explained what he was doing for Cabot. He said he was brought on board in April to evaluate Cabot’s procedures and equipment.
“It’s my assertion that these wells were properly completed,” Watson said.
While acknowledging that DEP regulations are insufficient, Watson said Cabot and other drillers are doing what they can.
“If anything, the industry is ahead of the current regulations,” he said.
Watson paused for numerous shouts of disagreement.
Aileo interrupted him on a couple of occasions and admonished the crowd to be civil.
Watson also stated that the very nature of the area’s geography causes some natural contamination in water supplies.
“The reality is that oil and gas seeps are part of the landscape,” he said.
DEP Secretary John Hangar disagrees. In a statement e-mailed to Times-Shamrock newspapers, he said gas in residents’ wells came from Cabot.
“We used isotopic testing to prove that the gas came from Cabot wells and to rule out that it was naturally there. Also Cabot’s gas wells were poorly drilled, and we have video of gas bubbling at the gas wells themselves,” he wrote. “Cabot is running a public relations campaign. It is tragic to see neighbors turn on neighbors. For nearly two years families have been without a permanent water supply. Enough already indeed.”
Also at the meeting, Tom Milnes of Milnes Engineering in Tunkhannock spoke briefly on how he believes a project such as this should have been approached. He said DEP failed to take appropriate measures, and acted hastily.
“The whole process of completing the project needs to be thoroughly vetted,” he said.
Milnes also said there are probably a number of alternatives to a lengthy pipeline. While they may or may not be better options, he said they should have at least been explored.
For example, Milnes said a locally-supplied water system could be more efficient.
Aileo told the crowd there would be a question-and-answer session, but all questions had to be written on note cards to be read.
Aileo read a few questions, such as one asking who will pay for the system. He said DEP plans to use funds from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, supposedly to be paid back by Cabot. But he added there is no assurance Cabot will pay.
As Aileo thumbed through the note cards, he was jeered for what some in the crowd said was selectively choosing what to answer.
“A lot of these are not questions, they’re statements,” he said.
After Aileo read another question, which Watson attempted to answer, the shouts and catcalls became louder and more frequent. Aileo decided that was enough.
“There is a small but sufficiently nasty portion of the group that makes civil discussion impossible,” he said as he shut the meeting down.
As the audience turned to leave, the dissenters walked out to a chant of, “Make Cabot pay! Make Cabot pay!”