Youngstown council delays vote on drilling

Members want more time to discuss oil, gas drilling in the city

By David Skolnick


City council postponed a vote to seek proposals from companies interested in leasing city-owned land for oil and gas drilling even though a majority of members favor it.

Some council members said Wednesday that they wanted more time to discuss the issue before making a decision.

Mayor Charles Sammarone’s proposal to lease city-owned land for drilling brought a standing-room-only crowd of about 70 people, who oppose the legislation, to council chambers.

But council already decided beforehand not to vote on the ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting. At its finance committee meeting, just before the full meeting, council agreed to wait at least until its next meeting, Oct. 3, before voting.

Councilmen Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th, said they haven’t made a decision on the mayor’s proposal, and wanted to obtain more information.

The five other members of council said they support Sammarone’s proposal.

For legislation to pass by emergency measure, six council members have to vote in favor of it. If not, legislation can be approved after readings at as many as three meetings by a majority vote.

The city desperately needs money to demolish about 1,070 dilapidated residential houses immediately, Sammarone said. The money obtained from leasing city-owned land for drilling would be used for demolition and neighborhood improvement projects, he said.

“I’m trying to come up with ideas to solve the demolition problem,” Sammarone said.

Sammarone said he proposed this idea to council members about four or five weeks ago and no one objected to it.

Ray said he doesn’t “recall a specific discussion on this issue with” Sammarone.

The mayor disputes that.

While Sammarone yelled at times when discussing the proposal with council members at the finance committee, he said he is “not mad. I’ve had this happen before. You don’t take it personally.”

Residents on the city’s East Side already are selling drilling rights, and it is the state and not the city that makes decisions on approving drilling in Youngstown, Sammarone pointed out.

The mayor added that those who oppose fracking should concentrate their efforts on lobbying state officials as the city has no say in issuing drilling permits.

“I tell the frackers, ‘How many times can you come here to complain?’” he said.

“The state controls this. Camp in [Gov. John] Kasich’s backyard.”

The city owns about 4,000 acres, but realistically could lease about 300 to 800 acres, said city Finance Director David Bozanich.

The city could receive up to $5,000 an acre plus 20-percent royalties on the drilling, he said.

Council members said they received telephone calls before Wednesday’s meeting from people opposing this plan.

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, described them as “crazy calls,” while Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, called them “obnoxious calls.”

Three people who object to oil and gas drilling spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

Before they spoke, a woman in the crowd was escorted out of the meeting by security when she started yelling at council.

Also, state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, spoke, saying he opposes injection wells and not fracking, but added: “I’m leaning more and more to opposing all of it” because the oil and gas industry — which he contends “has bought the Ohio Legislature” — isn’t forthcoming about what it does.

Sammarone left the meeting during the public- comment portion and attended a Civil Service Commission meeting, also in city hall.

“How many times can you hear people who are against fracking?” he said after the meeting.

“I’ve heard it before. I’m against prostitution. How many times can I say that?”

Jean Engle of Youngstown, co-president of Treez Please, an organization that plants trees and promotes the increased use of green space in the city, said Sammarone has no right to seek to lease city land because that property belongs to the citizens.

Tom Cvetkovich of Youngstown, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, said no amount of money is worth the risk of fracking.

After the meeting, Cvetkovich said he is pleased they are postponing the vote will conduct further discussion.

“I understand it’s very difficult” to decide, he said.

Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, who spoke Tuesday at a council public-utilities committee, said in a Wednesday telephone interview that postponing the vote is “an extremely responsible decision on behalf of council. It’s extremely responsible for them to want to take their time. They’re going to great lengths to hear both sides.”

Ohio Oil and Gas Energy is a public outreach organization that promotes awareness of the oil and gas industry.

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