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City Council talks money, university and fracking

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Fracking, money and the university, though not always related, dominated the Athens City Council meeting on Monday.

In attendance were special guests Pam Benoit and Stephen Golding, Ohio University’s executive vice president and provost and vice president for Finance and Administration respectively. Both conducted an “Economic Impact Report” and reported it to the council. The report analyzed how the presence of OU and its student body impacted the city of Athens in 2012.

The report is over 100 pages long, so Benoit and Golding picked out its “highlights,” according to them. Benoit stated the report also makes the case for continued public investment in the university.

The information shared with the council on Monday stressed the economic benefits that the city receives due to Ohio University.

“WOUB reaches out to over 630,000 households,” Golding said.

Golding also pointed out the 75 million dollars brought to Athens’ economy from annual visitors and the Athens residents who benefit from students enrolled in OU’s medical school.

The importance of these facts were not taken for granted.

“Universities are judged by what they teach and how, but also by how they impact their region,” Golding said.

Council members agreed that further cooperation between the university and the city would be beneficial. City Council President, Jim Sands, expressed his opinion that the University has already been communicating with the city very well.

“Personally, I’m most impressed with the contact that the University has had with the community,” Sands said.

Benoit and Golding also reported the increase in student enrollment from last semester to now as a good sign for more revenue. However, some council members expressed concern over whether the city could sustain that many students.

“Two years from now, some of those students will be part of the community,” At-Large Rep. Chris Knisely said, referring to the fact that many upperclassmen choose to rent houses in the city of Athens.

“No institution has all positive impacts,” Fourth Ward Rep. Christine Fahl said.

After relaying community concerns over the repercussions of an increasing student body, Fahl cited parties and Halloween as points of worry.

Benoit stressed the fact that many incoming students are taking only online courses in response.

“We must constantly assess and monitor all negative impacts,” Golding said about the impact of a large student body.

When asked if she was satisfied with these answers, Fahl simply stated, “They’re administrators.”

The topic of fracking and informing the public about the issue also came up at the meeting. The council discussed Ohio Supreme Court Case 2013-0465, a case that will decide if city governments have any jurisdiction over drilling within their limits.

Athens Mayor, Paul Wiehl, stated the fact that farms must abstain from chemicals for a certain amount of years before they can be considered “organic,” and that oil spills have tarnished the name of organic farms in the past.

Fahl reinforced the idea that organic farming is “an important driver of our economy here.” At-Large Rep. Steve Patterson brought up that all farmers, not just organic ones, have voiced protest over fracking within the city as well.

“All farmers would be impacted . . . they wouldn’t be able to trust their own products,” Patterson said.

Third Ward Rep. Michele Papai brought up the waste that fracking and oil drilling entails in support of Patterson’s point that all farmers could potentially be affected.

“We may not be drilling right in our locale, but the waste has to go somewhere, and the waste is even less regulated, as we’re learning,” Papai said.

The Ohio Supreme Court Case is still open, and the university population is likely to increase, meaning that tension between the city and other forces are likely to stay.

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