Committee Fights To Keep Fracking Ban On Primary Ballot

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The Athens Bill of Rights Committee is fighting the county prosecutor’s opinion that the group’s fracking ban initiative must be placed on the general election ballot instead of the primary ballot as the group had hoped.

According to a news release from BORC Chairman Dick McGinn on Sunday, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn informed the committee on Thursday that the initiative petition may not be certified for the May 6 primary election despite having the necessary signatures already validated by the elections board.

The group claims that Blackburn said the initiative will have to wait until the general election on Nov. 5 due statute 731.28 in the Ohio Revised Code, entitled “Ordinances and measures proposed by initiative petition.” The section of the code states, “The board shall submit such proposed ordinance or measure for the approval or rejection of the electors of the municipal corporation at the next general election occurring subsequent to 90 days after the auditor or clerk certifies the sufficiency and validity of the initiative petition to the board of elections.”

In response, the Bill of Rights Committee said it delivered a letter on Monday morning to the Athens County Courthouse requesting that an exception be made to allow the proposed ordinance to be on the primary election ballot. The letter was addressed to Blackburn and elections board members Kenneth Ryan, Aundrea Carpenter-Colvin, Helen Walker and Kate McGuckin.

“As the BORC has argued before, the Ohio Revised Code specifically singles out citizen petitions and makes it harder for them to get on the ballot than ordinances put forward by elected officials. What BORC is requesting, in effect, is parity under the law which is a right based on Article 1 Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution, under Right to alter, reform, or abolish government and repeal special privilege…” the news release states.

This will be the group’s second attempt to place a ban on hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and associated practices in the Athens city limits. The group had collected enough signatures to get an initiative on the November 2013 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.

BORC’s first attempt vowed to ban fracking and associated practices in the city and the city’s “jurisdiction.” This new attempt focuses strictly within the city limits.

The group said it’s main reason for not wanting to wait until November to hold the vote is due to “safety and from evidence that the situation constitutes an emergency which should not be ignored for another six months while waiting for the November general election.”

The news release says that the first duty of government is to protect the happiness and safety of the people and that BORC’s initiative is designed to protect the water supply from potential harm caused by deep shale hydraulic fracturing and fracking waste disposal activities in the city.

“Any delay will give industry time to obtain permits and begin the extractive and disposal processes before the people have been given the opportunity to exercise their rights and to decide for themselves whether they approve of such activities taking place inside their community,” it states.

The Athens Bill of Rights Committee says that oil and gas extraction is indeed an urban problem and not just one that occurs in the countryside.

“…Cities are magnets for drilling because of the availability of paved streets and plentiful clean water needed for deep shale fracturing. Since 2004 when Ohio law was changed to allow urban drilling, more than 1,000 wells had been drilled in urban areas — almost half of them (491) in residential areas near Cleveland,” the group’s news release states.

The release concludes, “The BORC is submitting its request for an exception to be made because any delay in presenting its initiative petition to the voters for a decision is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the health and safety of everyone who lives or works in Athens City.”