Athens Fracking Vote Pushed To November

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The Athens Community Bill of Rights Committee will have to wait until the November general election to see its proposed fracking ban on the ballot. The committee had hoped to get the initiative on the May 6 primary ballot in the city of Athens, however the Athens County Board of Elections ruled Tuesday that state law dictates that citizen initiatives can only be on general elections.

The committee submitted the necessary signatures to get a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing and associated practices on the city ballot in January, however County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn informed the group that the initiative couldn’t be voted on in the primary election.

The Bill of Rights Committee submitted a letter to Blackburn and the elections board earlier this month asking that an exception be made to put the initiative on the May ballot. The group argued that delaying the vote would give the oil and gas industry more time to potentially drill 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,” stated the Bill of Rights Committee’s letter to the board on Feb. 10.

On Tuesday, elections board member Ken Ryan said he appreciated the committee’s sense of urgency and responsibility, however the Ohio Revised Code is clear in stating that initiatives must be placed on the general election ballot. The board voted unanimously to certify the petitions for the November ballot.

Elections board member Kate McGuckin said the good news is that the committee won’t have to collect additional signatures for the initiative to appear on the November ballot.

Bill of Rights Committee Chairman Dick McGinn said he accepted the board’s decision and thanked the board for its hard work on behalf of the voters of Athens County.

Committee members Jeff Risner and Sally Jo Wiley echoed McGinn’s sentiment.

“It means we already have the signatures we need, signed and sealed. The campaign can begin,” Wiley said.

Risner added, “The general election simply provides a bigger stage where the community can dialog on issues of importance to the city.”

This is the committee’s second attempt to place a ban on fracking and associated practices on the city ballot. 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 elections board voted to uphold the challenge, preventing it from being placed on the 2013 ballot.

The first initiative proposed a ban on fracking and associated practices in the city limits and the city’s “jurisdiction.” The new initiative pertains only to the Athens city limits.

On Tuesday, Athens County Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey said there have been no challenges filed against the new initiative.