Control questions surface at meeting

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Striking a balance between local government zoning control and natural gas industry regulations was the focus of a state government study committee Friday afternoon.

Sanford-Lee County Planning Department Director Bob Bridwell spoke about if and how municipal bodies can zone for the oil and natural gas industry — including hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking — during a meeting of the Local Government Regulation Study Group of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission. The group is typically led by Sanford City Council member Charles Taylor, but Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, who is the chairman of the mining commission, filled in for Taylor at the McSwain Extension Education and Agriculture Center.It appears the state legislators will allow the natural gas industry to supersede local government’s zoning policies, including local-land use plans, while allowing the local governments to address other concerns, Bridwell said. The other issues the planning department staff intends to focus on, he continued, included how well drilling and extraction will impact water and wastewater treatment lines, gas lines, pumping stations, equipment yards, worker housing, and trucking and fuel terminals, among other items.

“I am not optimistic the state will [allow] local-land use planning to supersede,” Womack said. “But they are open to suggestions.”

Lee County is unique among counties within the state in that the entire county is zoned, Bridwell said. The committee will need to recommend a minimum standard for health and safety that will apply to the counties that may not have zoning ordinances, Womack said.

There needs to be a balance where local governments have some control, possibly concerning noise and light nuisances, but ensuring zoning regulations are not over burdensome, he said.

The planning staff will also be preparing for “a considerable amount of work in infrastructure planning, emergency services, commercial construction and logistical planning,” Bridwell said.

The committee will meet again in April as it prepares a draft report this summer.