Council votes to allow leasing of city land

By David Skolnick


In a somewhat heated and confrontational environment, City Council approved legislation by a 5-2 vote to allow the city to solicit offers from companies to lease city-owned land for gas and oil drilling.

But drilling isn’t going to come for some time.

The city needs to resolve a number of issues — including title searches and determining if there are land restrictions — before starting the process of finding a company interested in the leasing rights, said city Finance Director David Bozanich.

Though a precise time line isn’t known, Bozanich said it could take six to eight months.

That also fits with a request from some council members — and originally suggested by state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th — to first wait until a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency progress report on fracking is done.

The first progress report is planned for later this year.

But if the study is delayed significantly, the city will move ahead without that information, Bozanich said.

A final draft report is expected for public comment in 2014, according to the EPA. The report, conducted at the request of Congress, will examine any potential impacts fracking has on water.

If the progress report says fracking is bad, the city can halt the process of finding a company willing to lease its land for drilling, Bozanich said.

“If it says it’s benign, we’ll proceed,” he said.

Also, council has the right to rescind any legislation it approved, Bozanich said.

The time line did next to nothing to change the positions of the nearly 50 people at council’s meeting opposing the drilling.

Some said they plan to get signatures on petitions to overturn council’s vote for either the May 2013 election or a special election before that date.

Councilmen Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th, voted against the proposal because they want council’s final approval on any drilling contract.

The others disagreed, saying that isn’t done with other contracts.

“We have experienced professionals on staff who can handle this,” said Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, during the finance committee meeting before council met in chambers.

Mayor Charles Sammarone recommends using money from the leases toward residential demolition and neighborhood improvements.

Sammarone wasn’t at the council meeting because of a previously scheduled vacation.

Ray Beiersdorfer, a Youngstown State University professor in its geological and environmental sciences department, told council that approving the ordinance would lead to polluted air, water and soil.

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, said Beiersdorfer hadn’t said anything against fracking until earthquakes near an injection well occurred last year.

The professor said that wasn’t true.

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