The East Run Hellbenders Society was born in June 2014 after a Pennsylvania natural gas and oil drilling company sought and received a permit to dispose of wastewater in Grant Township, a northern Indiana County municipality. The group feared that the Little Mahoning Creek, which is a popular spot for fishing as well as a home for the hellbender (salamanders) would be polluted. The East Run Hellbenders Society’s sole purpose is to protect the safety, health and well-being of the citizens of Grant Township.
Because the group opposes injection wells, they sought advice from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to support the efforts of Grant Township to develop and defend a Community Bill of Rights that declares, “the rights of human and natural communities to water and a healthy environment,” and effectively bans the wastewater disposal well. This effort was successful because of the groups’ ability to engage and organize public support. They successfully wrote a Home Rule Charter which brings significant changes to the structure of local governments by transferring authority in municipal affairs from state law to local charters that are adopted and amended by voters. Grant’s charter was written entirely on the basis of asserting and protecting rights. It passed in the November 2015 election by a two to one margin. (67%).
Since then, the permit that was initially granted has been revoked by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); however, a lawsuit is pending against Grant Township regarding their Community Bill of Rights ordinance, and the gas and oil drilling company has applied for another permit. That permit is currently suspended and under review.
The League of Women Voters of Indiana County presented the fourth annual Peggy Clark Grassroots Environmental Leadership award to the Hellbenders. The award recognizes grassroots citizens, groups, or businesses who show exemplary leadership and active participation in policy issues that involve protecting or pre-serving our environment.