Palestine says you won’t see rig on school grounds

EAST PALESTINE – The village school district is not leasing land for oil and gas, and has no intention of putting a drilling rig on its property.

Superintendent George Fisk said Thursday a “rumor” has been going around that the district may approve drilling activity, but the district hasn’t even discussed leasing over the last three years.

District Treasurer Rick Ellis and Board of Education member Ron Novak both said the district has not discussed leasing since Tom Inchak was superintendent, and even then it was only discussed briefly.

Ellis said it was about three years ago that Inchak advised the board he was going to talk to an attorney and speak with some oil and gas companies to see if any were interested in the roughly 48 acres of school land.

The board was not required to act on the matter since he was only “putting some feelers out,” but there was “absolutely no interest” from the companies, Ellis said.

When Inchak told the board companies were not interested, nothing happened after that and the board stopped considering the option, he added.

On Friday, Novak said the board has not discussed leasing since then.

“The issue hasn’t come up for a couple of years. In fact, I asked the other board members if they had heard anything about this since it had come up at the council meeting and nobody had heard anything, and as far as I know it has never come up in any discussion among the board,” he said.

Councilman Alan Cohen said at last week’s council meeting the district was interested in leasing land, but later learned what he heard was indeed a rumor.

“I would like to retract that statement … I have since learned I was misinformed,” he said on Friday.

Fisk said the only time leasing has come up since he took over as superintendent two years ago was when council began discussing leasing municipal property.

At that time the village was trying to offer its roughly 140 acres for a non-drilling lease.

In an e-mail to his advisory committee before a regularly scheduled meeting last week Fisk said, “In the two years I have been here only one person has asked me anything about the district’s plans for the property and stance on drilling. That person was Pete (Monteleone, village manager) … I told him at the time that the district can always use additional revenue, but I would not support any type of drilling, etc., on our property.”

Fisk made the same statement when contacted Thursday. A copy of his e-mail was provided by a member of the advisory committee that consists of community members and building principals.

The village is currently considering a group leasing proposal suggested by Councilman Don Elzer, who believes that combining the municipal and residential property in town for leasing purposes would draw more interest from oil and gas companies.

The proposal has drawn some backlash from residents who turned out to voice their opinions at the latest meeting, and some are concerned that lumping the property together would increase the chances of drilling in village limits.

Fisk said he is not sure who started the rumor that the district is seeking to have a gas well put on the property and addressed that rumor in the e-mail.

“This is completely and utterly incorrect. Whoever has started this rumor has no knowledge of our actual plans,” he said.

Those plans do not include oil and gas exploration, but land resource, and more details of that will come out during tonight’s board of education meeting, he added.

When asked for their opinions of the group leasing proposal Fisk and Novak declined, with Fisk saying he doesn’t feel he has enough information to make a determination.

“At this point we are not looking into it, that’s all I can say,” Novak said.