Residents seeking home rule hit snag

By David Skolnick


A group of Beaver Township residents who oppose fracking in their hometown collected signatures on petitions to place a limited-home-rule initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

But it appears the proposal cannot go anywhere because of state law governing limited home rule.

Larry Wehr, the chairman of the township’s board of trustees, points to Chapter 504 of the Ohio Revised Code, which states after a citizens’ petition on limited home rule is determined to have enough valid signatures, the question must wait at least 90 days after certification by a county board of elections before a public vote.

“Even with a rush, they can’t get it done before the spring,” he said.

Aug. 8 is the deadline to get a citizen initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Also, the group, which started getting signatures a few days ago, isn’t leaving much room for error.

The group needs 296 valid signatures — a number equal to 10 percent of township voters in the 2010 gubernatorial election — on petitions to get the proposal on the ballot and will turn in their petitions with fewer than 400 signatures, said Julie Fuhrman Davis, who organized the effort with Patti Gorcheff.

But Fuhrman Davis and Gorcheff said they made sure those who signed their petitions are registered voters and signed their legal signatures.

Limited home rule gives more power to township officials to enact legislation in a broad range of areas — such as increase debt, pass curfew laws for minors, limit speed on township roads, increase enforcement of zoning codes, and regulate nuisance and public-safety issues, according to Ohio Revised Code — that a statutory township cannot do.

“I don’t see the benefits” of home rule for Beaver, Wehr said. “My advice is to take it slow and steady. They’ve rushed it a little bit. I’m willing to look at it before saying yes or no out of hand.”

By having limited home rule, Furhman Davis and Gorcheff say the township cannot ban drilling for natural gas and oil or fracking.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil. That brine-water mix is then disposed of in injection wells.

Drilling and fracking is the responsibility of the state.

Limited home rule can allow township officials to restrict roads used by trucks transporting fracking materials and limiting the times when noise from drilling machines is acceptable, Furhman Davis and Gorcheff said.

There are no gas and oil or fracking sites in the township.

“We know they’re coming, and we want to have some kind of control as far as zoning and other issues,” Gorcheff said. “This isn’t about banning, but taking control of certain items. I don’t think Beaver Township is prepared for this.”

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