Athens Council Opposes Meigs Barge Facility Proposal

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Athens City Council unanimously voted on Monday to oppose the construction of a barge facility on the Ohio River which would accept fracking waste in neighboring Meigs County.

GreenHunter Water, a Texas company, is seeking approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a barge facility in Portland that would be used for the unloading of bulk liquids generated by hydraulic fracturing operations. The application was sent to the Corps’ Huntington, West Virginia office on June 27. The public comment period is slated to end Monday. However, environmental groups — including the Athens County Fracking Action Network — are urging the Corps to extend the public comment period through Oct. 31.

On Monday, Athens City Council passed a resolution urging the Corps to deny any and all applications for barge offloading terminals for waste from hydraulic fracturing on the Ohio River and its tributaries.

This isn’t the first facility proposed by GreenHunter on the Ohio River. The company has purchased seven other facilities along the river from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and northeastern Ohio for the purpose of transporting frack waste. The company’s facility in New Matamoras in Washington County is slated to have capacity to accept frack waste from barges. However, barging fracking waste on the Ohio River is currently illegal. The U.S. Coast Guard is still reviewing whether the practice should be permitted.

GreenHunter is apparently hopeful that federal approval will be granted for the barging of such materials on waterways.

On Monday, Councilwoman Chris Fahl said she had major concerns about the proposal. She said that moving forward with construction of a barge off-loading facility could create bias and affect the coast guard’s decision regarding transporting fracking waste on the river.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure the health and safety and economic viability of this area,” Fahl said. “If there is a major spill on the Ohio, it will probably not encourage other types of industries to come into this area to open their businesses and such.”

Fahl said she’d also like to see the Corps accept online public comments, not just hard copies, which are currently required.

Councilman Steve Patterson said the proposed dock would be 41 miles from Athens and that the waste would go into area injection wells, including those in Athens County. He said he feared that if more fracking waste continues to come into the area, accidents are bound to happen.

“It’s disheartening that southeastern Ohio has been the dumping ground for other states to start bringing fracking in. This is a huge door to open up to allow that to happen,” he said.

Mayor Paul Wiehl agreed. He said that there are billions of dollars behind the oil and gas industry and that the city will do what it can to fight it.