SUNBURY -- Pennsylvania's 66 county conservation districts will benefit from a new state fee imposed on Marcellus Shale developers.
The Northumberland County Conservation District anticipates receiving at least $56,000 annually for the next 15 years as a result of the fee approved last week by Gov. Tom Corbett.
"We've never had any dedicated funding stream. This is very significant," district manager Judy Becker said.
Robert B. Maiden, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, said the fee will provide resources to keep up with the rising need for environmental protection and education as companies extract natural gas from underneath much of the state.
"The economic importance and significance of the Marcellus Shale and other natural gas formations cannot be denied, but the environmental health, conservation and safety of our natural resources must be a priority," he said.
Not everyone is in favor of the fee, though.
Despite reaping $10.5 million in the first payment, Bradford County lawmakers and officials oppose the fee.
"Job killing" legislation is how Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko described the implementation of the fee, which he worries will drive gas companies out of the state.
The county, which has hundreds of natural gas wells drilled already, has received more than $400 million in property tax growth and business without the impact fee, he said.
It's not certain if conservation districts will be restricted in how they can spend the funds, but Becker expects the money will have a huge impact on local water quality at a time when funding streams have begun drying up.
Her district has an annual budget of $280,000, of which about one-third is provided by the county and the rest by the state.
Becker would like to use the additional funds for stream bank restoration, including Shamokin Creek, which has been affected by acid mine drainage; to address erosion and sedimentation issues due to flooding; and to develop best management practices to help farmers meet Chesapeake Bay requirements.
"This affects everybody," Becker said of the widespread benefit.
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