City, MetroParks to get public input on drilling plans
By David Skolnick
and Elise Franco
A pair of public hearings on drilling for oil and gas will be today — one for drilling on city-owned land, and the other to gauge input on Mill Creek MetroParks property.
Youngstown City Council will have a public hearing from 5 to 7 p.m. in city council chambers on the sixth floor of city hall to discuss Mayor Charles Sammarone’s recommendation to seek offers from companies to drill on city-owned land.
There already is majority support on the seven-member council to OK legislation to move ahead with that plan.
But some members of city council wanted a hearing to get input from the public even though approval is a foregone conclusion.
“I encourage people to come out for or against because we want to have transparency and to have their voices heard,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, chairman of the public utilities committee.
Council rejected his proposal two weeks ago to permit the city administration to seek offers but not be allowed to enter into a contract without council’s approval.
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, who supports the mayor’s proposal, said council is having the hearing “to be fair to the public.”
Ray and Gillam said they expect a civil discussion on this issue that has attracted a lot of attention with those opposed to drilling packing city council chambers Sept. 19 and Oct. 3, when the proposal received readings.
Everyone will have two minutes to speak about the proposal, with those in favor of it going first, Ray said. There will be no debating, and council will not take questions, he said.
“I’m not against a public hearing, but how much more can be said?” Sammarone asked. “We aren’t the first ones to do this. Several communities and private landowners on the East Side” are in the process or already have sold drilling rights.
Sammarone said he wants to use the money from the city leasing its land for oil and gas drilling for residential demolition and neighborhood improvements.
The city has about 1,070 vacant homes that need to come down now and has money for about 300 to 400 demolitions, Sammarone said.
The city has about 4,000 to 5,000 vacant houses overall, he said.
The city owns about 4,000 to 5,000 acres with about 400 acres usable for drilling, said Finance Director David Bozanich.
“To create a unit [for drilling], a company needs 600 to 1,000 acres,” he said. “We’d contribute a portion, but gas companies would need to sign up others in the area. We’d need the cooperation of other nearby property owners.”
Also, Mill Creek MetroParks will have one of two public hearings from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Fellows Riverside Gardens, regarding the oil and gas industry and its potential effect on the MetroParks. The second public hearing is Oct. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the MetroParks Farm in Canfield.
Linda Kostka, MetroParks development and marketing director, said the first 30 minutes of the event will be a presentation by Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Oil and Gas Energy Program. Most of the event will be reserved for public input on the issue of drilling inside the park.
Those wishing to speak must sign in with their name and whether they are for or against drilling in the park. Each person will get two minutes to speak.
“It’s really to gauge feelings on the issue and see if the board will then have enough to be able to make a decision,” Kosta said. “When we’re at the board meetings, we almost exclusively have anti-drilling comment, and we haven’t heard from the other side.”
The Guardians of Mill Creek Park and state Rep. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, will speak during the first hour at the Oct. 25 event followed by an hour of public input, Kosta said.