Board Votes Down Athens Fracking Ban Initiative

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The Athens County Board of Elections unanimously voted Thursday morning to not allow a proposed oil and gas extraction ban in the city of Athens on the November ballot.

Earlier this month local attorney Robert Rittenhouse filed a protest with the elections board against a proposed ballot initiative that would have attempted to ban fracking and associated practices within the city of Athens and its jurisdiction. The initiative was proposed by the Athens Community Bill of Rights Committee. 

Rittenhouse's protest was filed on behalf of seven Athens residents: Eleanor Barstow, Peter Couladis, Michael Hunter, Carl Denbow, William Lavelle, and Patricia and Roger Grueser. 

On Thursday a protest hearing was held in the Athens County Courthouse. Following arguments by attorneys on both sides, board members Ken Ryan, Aundrea Carpenter-Colvin and Helen Walker voted to sustain Rittenhouse's objection to the ballot initiative. Ryan and Carpenter-Colvin are Republicans and Walker is a Democrat. Democratic elections board member Kate McGuckin abstained from the vote because she was one of the many Athens residents that signed the ballot initiative petition.

Rittenhouse and colleague John Lavelle argued the following points in their protest of the initiative:

•The initiative seeks to hold an election to administer a portion of the Ohio Revised Code that authorizes any municipality to prosecute water supply polluters upstream to a distance of 20 miles.

•The language of the petition is misleading, including a broad definition of “shale gas” that could ban natural gas being supplied to residences and businesses in the city.

•The initiative would actually serve as a referendum on sections of the city’s wellhead protection plan.

•The petition included precatory language that has no legal authority.

Attorney Sean Kelly represented the Bill of Rights Committee on Thursday. 

Following the election board's decision, Kelly told The Messenger that he would be appealing the decision. 

Bill of Rights Committee member and Athens City Councilman Jeff Risner said that he was "disappointed" with the board's decision, but not surprised. 

Kelly said that the possibility of having the fracking ban initiative on the November 2013 ballot still exists as the courts allow for expedited procedures when dealing with election matters should an appeal be won. 

As The Messenger previously reported, the Bill of Rights Committee has stated that it will try to get the initiative on the ballot in 2014 if it fails to do so this year. 

See later Thursday and Friday's print edition of The Messenger for the full story.