East Palestine wasting energy on leasing idea

The time has come for East Palestine Village Council to quit wasting so much time at every meeting debating the merits of Councilman Don Elzer’s flawed plan for leasing village property for shale gas development.

Elzer recommended combining residential and municipal property for the purpose of offering to oil and gas leasing companies to draw more interest to the area and boost revenue.

Elzer believes companies would be more interested in leasing land locally if a larger acreage was offered. East Palestine has offered roughly 140 acres of the available municipal property to companies the last few years and has not received any suitable offers.

According to Elzer, the village and its residents could earn up to $8 million in signing bonus revenue alone by leasing the roughly 3 square miles at $4,000 per acre, should that be the offer. Of that, the village would get around $1 million, with the rest divided among property owners, Elzer said.

Some residents have shown interest in going with such a plan, while others are opposed. Still others are reluctant to sign on without more information and further study. A brochure produced by village officials to explain the plan left many questions in the minds of property owners.

We believe Elzer’s plan creates more problems than it solves. Not only is the plan impractical, it is probably impossible to legally implement. For the plan to succeed would you need unanimity among village property owners? That would seem impossible in a village with 4,721 residents.

Putting the plan on the ballot and letting voters decide, as has been suggested, would also seem to create legal and fairness issues: Can non-property owners participate in a vote that would force property owners to lease their land, or vice versa?

A far better approach is the one taken by the Belmont County village of Barnesville, which has been mentioned in council discussions.

According to The (Wheeling) Intelligencer, a sister publication of the Morning Journal, Barnesville signed an agreement in 2012 with Denver-based Antero Resources at a rate of $5,700 per acre and 20 percent of production royalties.

The Intelligencer reported that although private property owners could sign the same agreement as the village, they were not required to do so. In other words, it was left to each property owner to decide whether they wanted in on the lease.

Antero Resources then held a series of meetings throughout the village of Barnesville, to explain the plan to residents.

When the time is right, perhaps this is what East Palestine officials need to do: find a company willing to make such an offer and get the drilling company to conduct meetings to answer residents’ questions.

This is a far better approach than the complicated plan put forth by Elzer.