By KATIE SCHWENDEMAN
NEGLEY, Ohio - Fewer than 6 acres of land is earning money for Middleton Township now that Chesapeake Energy has leased the property for $2,000 an acre.
The board of trustees reached an agreement with the Oklahoma-based company recently after nearly a year of negotiations.
In addition to the signing bonus payment of $11,284 for the 5.64 acres, the township will also receive 15 percent royalties on the net.
The six parcels of leased property are located in different areas of the township, including near the township's road garage on Richardson Avenue and a portion of the Negley cemetery.
Trustees said no drilling will be conducted in the township; the land was leased for surface rights only.
Trustee Eldena Gearhart said the township should be receiving the $11,284 soon and it will be put toward capital improvements.
The money will not be used for operational purposes, she stressed.
She added that while the board hoped for more money through the lease she is pleased with the offer, especially since leasing in the county had died down.
"You always hope for more I think everybody realizes now that Chesapeake isn't doing a lot of heavy leasing in the area. I think they were trying to work with the township too, so we appreciate it," she said.
The additional money will help the township that, like other townships and municipalities, is dealing with funding cuts from the state level.
"The township can sure use the money and it is money that we didn't have before.
"With everything being cut back it's good to have," Gearhart said.
The lease was offered through DPS Penn, the land acquisition company actively leasing oil and gas rights on Chesapeake's behalf in Columbiana County and Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson counties, as well as two counties in Pennsylvania.
To date, an estimated 100,000 acres are under lease in the county to various gas drilling companies, including Chesapeake. Leasing is expected to continue through this year and trustees are hoping more township land can be included in that leasing.
"We do have a few more acres but this is all they agreed to lease at this time," Gearhart said.
Trustee Nancy Michaels said that "absolutely no drilling" will be conducted in the township no matter how much acreage is leased in the future, however. Any drilling would be through horizontal means from a rig located near the township's border.
The board hired attorney David Tobin to assist them with the negotiations after first opting to part ways with Shirley Smith, who operates a practice in East Palestine.