Group Says Protest Won’t Stop Proposed Fracking Ban Effort

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A local group trying to get a fracking ban on the November ballot in the city of Athens says it won’t let a recent protest filed against its ballot initiative stop them from pursuing the issue — even if it means delaying it a year.

On Tuesday, the Athens Community Bill of Rights Committee issued a news release stating that a protest of the ballot initiative filed with the Athens County Board of Elections on Aug. 2 will “fail to derail the democratic process.”

The committee has collected enough signatures to place the Athens Community Bill of Rights and Water Supply Protection Ordinance on the November ballot in the city. If passed by voters, the initiative would ban oil and shale gas extraction and associated practices in the city limits.

The protest against the fracking ban initiative was filed by local attorney Robert Rittenhouse of Lavelle and Associates. He filed the protest on behalf of seven Athens residents: Eleanor Barstow, Peter Couladis, Michael Hunter, Carl Denbow, William Lavelle, and Patricia and Roger Grueser.

A protest hearing for the initiative is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. in Courtroom A in the Athens County Courthouse.

The news release issued by the Bill of Rights Committee on Tuesday states that the Ohio Constitution “recognizes the people’s unalienable right to self government on issues with direct impact on their health, safety and welfare, and consent of the governed. A government that blocks the people from amending and altering their government is no democratic republic. It is not up to the Board of Elections to decide how the people exercise their right to the initiative power.”

The committee also states that it will press the fracking ban issue beyond Thursday’s hearing.

“Should the Board of Elections take the side of the protestors this week and refuse to certify Bill of Rights’ ballot initiative for the November 2-13 election, the Committee will file its own protest, either with an appeals court of the Secretary of State, seeking a mandamus judgment to force the issue back on the ballot,” the release states.

Should the initiative be prevented from being on the 2013 ballot, the Committee says it will simply put the initiative on the November 2014 ballot, for which the already collected signatures would still be valid.

The Committee says having the initiative on the 2014 ballot could have its advantages.

“After all, the 2014 ballot will include the governorship and many Athens city and county offices,” the news release says. “Voter turnout will be far greater in 2014 than 2013 and local candidates will have to take a stand on the Bill of Rights proposal.”

The Bill of Rights Committee also claims that those seven residents challenging the fracking ban initiative have “vested interests in the oil and gas industry, which must seem more important to them than working toward a clean and safe environment. Eventually they must bring their arguments before the people for a vote. They cannot delay the democratic process forever.”

The protest filed by Rittenhouse listed four main reasons to block the initiative from the November ballot:

•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.

Visit and read Friday’s print edition of The Athens Messenger to see the outcome of Thursday’s protest hearing.