Road Use Refusal Causes Contention

When natural gas drillers arrived in Harrison County, resident Jim Rosenberry, a retired district manager for Beaver Excavating, saw the economic benefits of leasing property going to his neighbors while he received nothing.

Rosenberry leased his property to Gulfport Energy, but was bypassed when it came time to drill. When he went in search of a reason, he concluded the problem stemmed from a stringent road use and maintenance agreement being used by Washington Township trustees. Rosenberry addressed the Harrison County Commission regarding the issue at a prior meeting and again appeared before the board Wednesday asking for help in finding a resolution.

The agreement for Washington Township includes a sentence not found in other agreements used in the county. While other agreements release the company drilling the well at the completion of the process, the document from his township states, “Completion of said drilling is not just for the termination of this agreement, as long as the well is in operation/production this RUMA is to remain in effect.”

“The oversize trucks hauling to and from drilling sites are tearing up local roads, creating hazardous conditions,” said township Trustee Bob Stewart. “The safety of the residents was and continues to be the primary concern of the trustees.”

“Gulfport Energy has not approached us to negotiate the agreement,” Stewart added. “We want Gulfport to participate. We want them to do it right, we want them to do it safely and at no cost to the taxpayers.”

“If these gas and oil companies strengthen and upgrade the roadways with due diligence beforehand this is not an issue,” commission Chair Dale Norris said. “The townships and the county are more than willing to be more lenient.”

Norris said companies in neighboring Carroll County had completed full-depth reclamation of roads prior to using them for drilling.

“This process completely rehabilitates and reinforces the structural strength of the underlying base of the road,” he said. “Then it will hold up to the traffic for the life of the well and there is no need for long-term bonding or RUMAs.”

Doug Crabtree, county engineer’s office business service officer, explained the state’s model agreement does not address safety issues.

“There are no stipulations for driveways or designation of responsibility for signage; there are no provisions to maintain accessibility for fire, law enforcement or EMS,” he said. “Stock Township requires each company requesting a RUMA to supply 100 tons of stone. Even when we get them signed, there is the issue of ‘Can we enforce them?'”

Norris cited a road in the county that was scheduled for repair last summer by an oil and gas company and still has not been touched.

“Measures to ensure that roads are repaired don’t capture the full cost of damage, potentially leaving taxpayers holding the bill,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is that the Washington Township trustees as well as other township trustees within the county, their main duty is to make sure that the township roads are passable.” County Prosecutor Michael Washington said. “The commissioners have no control over the trustees.”

“The county has formed a committee to establish what is called a model township RUMA, which will be presented at the annual township trustees’ dinner.” Washington said. “We have developed this RUMA to both keep the roads passable and keep the drillers and pipeline companies in line and require them to fix what need to be repaired because we have had many companies that sign the agreement but they do not follow through.”

No action was taken by the board on the issue.