[Harrisburg, PA] -- On the heels of recent news that Gov. Corbett’s administration didn’t record any input from concerned citizens at the only public hearing held to date on opening pristine areas of Loyalsock State Forest to more drilling, a coalition of conservation and outdoor organizations delivered over 12,000 signatures and renewed their call for a formal, comprehensive public input process on this public lands issue.
“The people of Pennsylvania are the owners and stewards of Loyalsock State Forest,” said Adam Garber, PennEnvironment Field Director. “Yet instead of garnering input from the state’s citizens, Gov. Corbett’s administration has avoided every opportunity for official public input—ignoring the growing outcry to protect this natural treasure from further fracking.”
After six months of ongoing public outcry and scrutiny, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) held the first—and so far only—public hearing about plans to open up new tracts of the Loyalsock to gas drilling. But, a recent open records request by the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition that the agency kept no record of the input and testimony from the hearing’s attendees.
“Anadarko’s plan, if enacted, would destroy the wild character of Loyalsock state forest,” said the Democratic Chairman of the state House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, state Representative Greg Vitali (Delaware County). “Public hearings are crucial. Greater public awareness of the issue will result in a better outcome.”
"The Loyalsock State Forest has become a truly wild and undisturbed part of Pennsylvania. For many, it is Pennsylvania’s “Wild Alaska” – a place that deserves the best protection we can give it," said Paul Zeph, Director of Conservation for Audubon PA. “The Governor should not be working in secrecy to get the most money for drilling in this critical habitat; but rather should be working publicly to get the most protection for it."
The hearing demonstrated that thousands of visitors enjoy Loyalsock State Forest, as they recalled memories of spending summer vacations and year-round family outings in the Loyalsock. But, these stories and many more were lost by the DCNR’s failure to record the public hearing. The coalition is calling on the DCNR to hold a series of six formal, recorded public hearings across the Commonwealth, as well as at least a 90-day public comment period, so citizens can have input into the future of Loyalsock State Forest.
“People from throughout Pennsylvania traveled to Williamsport to present testimony about why DCNR should protect, rather than allow drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “We now learn that the comments of people like Robin Mann, Sierra Club’s former national president, who took the entire day to travel from Philadelphia to Lycoming College, were never recorded by DCNR. It is clear that the Corbett administration has to stop the charade and undertake a real public hearing process to hear concerns about gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest. If they don’t, we will call for an investigation of the administration’s use of public funds to mislead the public,” Schmidt continued.
“DCNR is required by law and its mission statement to manage these state forest lands for all Pennsylvanians including generations yet to come,” said Steve Stroman, policy director for PennFuture. “It is imperative that the public has significant input into these far-reaching decisions affecting public lands.”
In conjunction with today’s event, the coalition launched a new website (www.saveloyalsock.org) to educate the public about the threat of drilling pads, pipelines and industrial fracking poses to these pristine areas of Loyalsock State Forest.
“As hikers and volunteer trail maintainers, we believe in the responsible management of our public lands, that government will be transparent and fair, and that our volunteer work will be respected by Harrisburg,” said Curt Ashenfelter, Executive Director of the Keystone Trails Association.
“While it is clear that protecting Loyalsock State Forest is not on Governor Corbett's agenda, he needs to understand that this magnificent area of core forest, wetlands and spectacular cascading streams belongs to the people of Pennsylvania,” said Robbie Cross, President of the Responsible Drilling Alliance. “It must be protected ---it must be kept wild.”
“Gas drilling results in a loss of thousands of acres of State Forest land that we will not have access to for generations. We will lose trails and access to remote and pristine areas,” said Dick Martin of the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition.
After the press event, staff and volunteers from the environmental groups hand-delivered the petitions in support of Loyalsock to Gov. Corbett’s capitol office.