Friday, October 7, 2016
If this is election season in Youngstown, it must be time once again for a group of overzealous, self-righteous and misleading environmental activists to infect the municipal election ballot yet again with a question that was loudly and clearly resolved years ago.
But so it goes that for the sixth time since 2013, Frack Free Mahoning Valley and its proponents have succeeded in placing their so-called Community Bill of Rights on the Nov. 8 general- election ballot.
That proposed charter amendment once again will ask the city electorate to ban fracking, injection wells and other activities surrounding the shale-gas infrastructure in the city.
Some might be willing to give Frack Free the benefit of the doubt this time around, given that this is the first time the initiative will appear on a presidential election-year ballot. We, however, aren’t willing to do so.
If anything, the prospect of the largest voter turnout of all five other attempts for the charter amendment’s passage will provide more opportunities for its myopic supporters to pull the wool over the eyes of a larger number of uninformed and easily impressionable voters. Most of them undoubtedly are immensely more concerned about registering their vote for the leader of the free world.
AN UNENFORCEABLE PROPOSITION
Outside of that difference, precious little has changed on the legal or practical fronts since the last five times the misnamed measure suffered ignoble defeats. It’s misnamed because passage of the amendment will not give city government many of the rights detailed in the grandiose tome. Simply put, it is unenforceable under current state statutes.
The Ohio General Assembly has given the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sole authority to oversee the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from shale formations deep beneath the earth’s surface.
The proposed amendment is designed to place the city outside the reach of either the Ohio Constitution or the U.S. Constitution.
In order words, should city voters throw caution to the wind and approve the amendment next month, it is a safe bet Youngstown will be in legal jeopardy if government attempts to enforce the provisions. It will be a costly proposition, one that the shrinking, fiscally challenged community can ill afford.
On a practical plain, just how great of a threat – or an economic boom – is hydraulic fracturing and other drilling activities to the city of Youngstown?
The short answer to this: None now.
As Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and other authorities living in the real world have noted time and again, no companies from the region, state or nation have plans to drill for oil and gas in the city. Given the slump in the drilling industry, chances are slim that any will materialize in the foreseeable future.
What’s more disturbing, however, is that the charter amendment – No. 6 on the city ballot – could, if approved and ultimately upheld by the courts, bring adverse ripple effects to viable businesses and industries in the city such as Vallourec, which now is only slowly beginning to recover from a long slump in its steel-pipe manufacturing for the oil and gas industry.
In addition, as the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth said in its statement of formal opposition to the fracking ban last month, the ballot language of the measure could devolve into a litigious nightmare for the city. Its vague language would give residents the authority to file lawsuits against anyone they believe is violating their rights to clean air and water, the group said.
In response to the opposition from that bloc of labor and community development organizations, Susie Beiersdorfer, a Frack Free leader, said, “We have the right to alter, reform or abolish our government.”
In reality, however, the activists have no right to upstage the state and federal constitutions for a cause that likely would invite struggle, headaches and setbacks in community development.
As such, Youngstown voters should stay their course, vote no yet again and refuse to buy into this potentially destructive community bill of goods.