Hydrant saga continues

Scott Ely, Montrose Councilwoman Julanne Skinner and Ray Kemble look on as Craig Stevens discusses the lock on the hydrant with a Montrose borough police officer while being filmed by a German camera crew. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Scott Ely, Montrose Councilwoman Julanne Skinner and Ray Kemble look on as Craig Stevens discusses the lock on the hydrant with a Montrose borough police officer while being filmed by a German camera crew. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

The ongoing saga of the disputed water distribution site in Montrose Borough entered a new chapter last week when property owners discovered a lock had been placed on the hydrant.

On Friday morning, Craig Stevens, owner of the hydrant, reported the discovery of the lock to borough police.

After a Montrose Zoning Hearing Board finding in December 2012 that the hydrant violated the borough’s zoning ordinance, Stevens appealed the case to the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas.

President Judge Kenneth Seamans issued an order May 8, concurring with the zoning board’s finding, and ordered the hydrant be removed within 45 days.

The hydrant is located on property owned by Monica Marta and Scott Ely. The property is located in an area zoned for residential use only. The Marta-Ely property has a “conditional use” exception allowing Marta to use it for her dental practice.

Stevens uses the hydrant to fill a water tanker truck that distributes water to area residents who claim they still can not use their water because of natural gas drilling in the area.

Stevens purchased the truck and hired driver Ray Kemble after the Department of Environmental Protection decided Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation no longer had to supply water to affected Dimock Twp. residents.

Borough police responded to the site Friday morning where Stevens, Marta, Ely, Kemble and Montrose Borough Councilwoman Julanne Skinner had gathered.

Stevens was also accompanied by a camera crew he said was from Germany.

Stevens and Skinner told the borough police officer present that the judge had ordered the removal of the hydrant by June 22 but did not issue a cease and desist order.

Natural gas opponent Vera Scroggins showed up at the scene a short time later, parking her vehicle on the opposite side of the road with her vehicle situated blocking a portion of the travel lane.

Stevens told Scroggins she should not block the travel lane, but Scroggins – who was visibly angered at the situation – refused to do so.

This notice and lock was placed on a water hydrant on Jessup St. A court order was issued in early May giving hydrant-owner Craig Stevens 45 days to remove the water distribution system. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

This notice and lock was placed on a water hydrant on Jessup St. A court order was issued in early May giving hydrant-owner Craig Stevens 45 days to remove the water distribution system. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Borough Zoning Officer James Smith was contacted and he agreed to remove the lock from the hydrant.
Stevens said that the hydrant would be removed per the judge’s order and that he is waiting for the Pennsylvania American Water Company to set the removal date.

Another court date in the hydrant case had been set for Wednesday, June 5, as the borough of Montrose petitioned the court for sanctions against Stevens.

The borough was looking to recoup the over $11,000 in legal fees incurred as a result of the lawsuit.
But the hearing did not happen, as Steven’s attorney, Kevin Boylan, who was working in conjunction with the Speers’ law firm, discontinued the matter, noting that the action was considered “settled” on Stevens’ part.

Also included in the court filings is a May 9 letter from the Speers’ law firm regarding Skinner.

At a May council meeting, Skinner was called out by members after it was discovered that she was employed by Speers, Stevens’ attorney.

The letter, signed by attorney Charlie Speers, acknowledged that Skinner began working for the firm on a part-time basis in August 2012 and moved into full-time employment in April 2013.

The letter stated that at the end of the day, May 7, Speers had learned that Skinner had not complied with her ethical responsibilities as a member of the borough council.

The Speers’ letter also stated that Skinner had not, to their knowledge, ever shared confidential information, with the law firm.

Skinner was then, according to the attorney’s letter, terminated from her employment with the Speers’ firm on May 9.