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Anti-fracking charter amendment soundly defeated in Youngstown

Published: Wed, May 8, 2013 @ 12:10 a.m.

By David Skolnick



Opponents of a citizen- organized anti-fracking charter amendment said the voters made the right choice in rejecting the ballot issue.

While opponents said the amendment wouldn’t have been enforceable if approved, they’re glad they don’t have to concern themselves with that issue.

“I fully respect those who are truly concerned about the environment,” said Alan D. Wenger, an attorney with Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell and chairman of the law firm’s oil and gas practice group. “They were well-meaning, but the charter amendment was ill- conceived and I’m glad it went down. I hope those who are vigilant will continue to be vigilant.”

Wenger is a member of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, which opposed the proposed charter amendment contending the provisions in the ballot language were unconstitutional and far reaching.

Youngstown voters reject- ed the charter amendment proposal 57 percent to 43 percent, according to final-but-unofficial totals from the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the Community Bill of Rights Committee that supported the amendment, said, “It’s a sad day for democ- racy. With the resources we had, it was an incredible effort, but we were outspent by the opponents.”

But this isn’t the end for the committee, many of whom also are members of Frack Free Youngstown.

“We’re going to have to work a little harder the next time,” said Beiersdorfer, who also won the Green Party’s primary Tuesday for Youngstown council president. “We’ll be back. We’ll regroup and figure out what we’re doing. We’re going to continue to fight to protect health and public safety.”

“With tonight’s vote, the people of Youngstown have announced that the city is open for business,” Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber President Tom Humphries said in a statement after the votes were tallied. Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said the results demonstrated “the voters had no sympathy for those who want to hold us back.”

Lynn Anderson, also a member of the committee and Frack Free Youngstown, agreed that the amendment supporters weren’t going away.

“We stood up to protect people’s drinking water and their health,” she said.

Supporters and opponents of the citizens-based charter amendment have disagreed on whether it was enforceable.

Supporters say similar proposals have been adopted across Ohio and the country, and are enforceable.

Opponents say the charter- amendment language attempts to circumvent the federal and state constitutions, and no city charter amendment can legally do that.

Even so, opponents say the charter amendment would have created uncertainty for potential companies looking to open and expand in Youngstown, thus adversely impacting business. The issue, they say, would have likely been resolved in court, which also wouldn’t be good for business.

Opponents also contended the amendment language could be interpreted to make many common things illegal, such as driving a car. One provision calls for the “right to breathe air untainted by toxins, carcinogens, particulates and other substances known to cause harm to health.”

But supporters say that wasn’t the intent of the law and the language was misinterpreted to confuse voters.

The state Legislature approved laws nine years ago to take over control of gas and oil drilling from local governments.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials have repeatedly said the state has complete oversight when it comes to fracking, and nothing done by a community can change that.

Organized labor played a big role in working to defeat the charter amendment.

“Our late push to get out the vote worked,” said Jaladah Aslam, staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8. “It was bad legislation for the community. Youngstown has finally turned a corner. The language was way too harsh and would have interfered with the economic comeback.”

Fracking has been a hot-button issue in Youngstown.

The ODNR linked 13 earthquakes in 2011, most notably a magnitude-4.0 quake on New Year’s Eve, to a deep-injection well, owned by D&L Energy Group. The state agency placed an indefinite suspension on that well and other D&L injection wells within a seven-mile radius.

Injection wells are used to dispose of the brine wastewater, a fracking byproduct.

The owner and an employee of Hardrock Excavating, a D&L sister company, were indicted a few months ago after it was learned that hundreds of thousands of gallons of fracking waste was dumped multiple times between Nov. 1, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013, into a storm drain on Salt Springs Road that flows into a tributary that feeds into the Mahoning River.

In October 2012, Youngs-town City Council approved legislation by a 5-2 vote to allow the city administration to solicit offers from companies to lease city-owned land for gas and oil drilling. But the administration has yet to take any steps to move on the issue.

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