Group reworks fracking ban initiative for spring 2014 ballot

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The Athens Bill of Rights Committee has begun collecting signatures in a second attempt to get a proposed fracking ban placed on the ballot in Athens.

According to a news release from the Bill of Rights Committee on Monday, the group is collecting signatures to get a ballot initiative on the 2014 primary election.


“The intent of the new petition is to allow Athens city voters the opportunity to decide whether or not to permit fracking and/or dumping of fracking wastes within city limits,” the news release states.

The group had collected enough signatures to get an initiative on the November ballot, but the initiative was challenged by a group of residents represented by attorney Rusty Rittenhouse of Lavelle and Associates. The Athens County Board of Elections voted to uphold the challenge, preventing it from being placed on the 2013 ballot.

“The Board members gave no reason or explanation for their decision, but stated in writing that ‘the decision speaks for itself,’” the committee wrote.

According to BORC, the group submitted a Freedom of Information Action request to obtain insight into the Board’s decision. The group stated that some of the materials it requested were made available immediately and were useful in helping the Committee to refine its petition. Two BORC members also met with Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn to discuss the group’s intention to pursue the ballot initiative in the spring.

“The new information convinced BORC members to move forward with the refined initiative petition, and forgo court action,” the Committee’s news release stated. “A court action would move away from the democratic process. BORC’s goal is to let the People decide.”

According to the group, two useful pieces of information have emerged from the information gathered from the FOIA request and meeting with Blackburn.

“First, the board’s sole legal basis for denying the petition was the fact that Athens City lacks a municipal charter. This was revealed in the board’s letter to BORC’s attorney Sean Kelly dated Sept. 19, 2013. The letter cited ‘substantively different procedural matters’ separating Athens from charter cities like Youngstown and Bowling Green, where very similar anti-fracking initiatives were allowed on the ballot by those counties’ boards of election. Apparently not all Ohio citizens enjoy the same rights under Ohio’s election laws.”

Secondly, BORC says that the election board’s refusal to speak to the press and the public was based on the belief that its decision was bound to end up in the Court of Common Please no matter which way it voted.

“This is highly unsatisfactory, since the board’s action was quasi-judicial,” wrote the committee in its news release.

BORC says it is still working to get information from the elections while working to ensure that Athens voters can elect to protect clean water for the city.

“The new initiative proposes to subordinate the rights of corporations to the unalienable right of the people to govern themselves. It will establish a Community Bill of Rights for Athens residents, and protect those rights by prohibiting shale gas extraction, injection wells, and related activities, inside the city and nowhere else. It will not ban fracking and injection wells in the 20-mile radius around Athens,” the committee stated.

BORC added that the new initiative will not solve the whole problem and that additional laws and regulations will be needed to protect the city’s water supply from the potential negative effects of fracking.