Home Politics Local activists describe campaign strategy for fracking ban

Local activists describe campaign strategy for fracking ban

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Out of the many matters of contention on November’s ballot, none is more important to local environmentalists than Issue Seven. After an intensive canvassing effort, the ballot initiative finally made it to the voting booth for the general election, and those who are seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing within Athens city limits are looking forward to the potential implementation.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has long been a sensitive subject for Eastern Ohio and regions with similar shale-enriched geographies. Some defend the economic gains it brings to the region, while others say those are entirely negated by the environmental consequences of fracking procedures.

Dick McGinn is the Chairman of the Athens Bill of Rights Committee the group responsible for putting this initiative on the ballot.

McGinn is confident in the initiative’s ability to pass. The Bill of Rights Committee recently held a fundraiser at the Athens Community Center that included guest speakers such as Athens City Council Second Ward Rep. Jeffrey Risner and Village Bakery and Cafe owner Christina Hughes. McGinn reported that Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl was also in attendance, and made a significant donation.

“It’s very clear that the mayor supports us,” said McGinn.

The fundraiser was such a success that as of now, there are no plans to host a future one. The campaign has a group of steadfast supporters upon which it can continue to rely on its grassroots nature.

McGinn reported that even people who were unable to attend have been sending contributions of varying amounts.

“We’re not asking for big donations,” said McGinn. “Just five dollars can go a long way in helping us out.”

Publicity is among the top priorities for the Bill of Rights Committee. The Athens community can expect to see an abundance of yard signs advocating for the ban on fracking in the weeks leading up to the election, as a significant amount of the Bill of Rights Committee budget will be allotted toward purchasing campaign materials.

In addition to concern for the environment, McGinn emphasized this is about what he described as “an exercise in direct democracy”. Whereas people in places like Virginia don’t have the right to put measures like this on their local ballot, Ohioans do.

“The Ohio Constitution allows us to do this and it’s a tribute to our democracy,” said McGinn.”If there is an opening for citizens to take on an issue themselves, and it’s important, they should.”

He acknowledged that because of this enhanced citizen power, there is often conflict between enacted legislation and the Ohio Constitution itself.

When asked whether the group anticipates if there will be trouble enforcing the law locally, given the state has ultimate authority on these matters, McGinn agreed it would not be easy.

“It is a big issue. They will have trouble. We’re expecting pushback.”

However, he maintained that no one on the committee is discouraged.

“The argument against us is that we’re out of our element,” McGinn said, adding that could not be further from the case. “Some people just don’t like what we’re doing and look for a reason to tear it down.”

An upcoming event, being described as a “dialogue on Issue Seven”, will feature Mansfield Law Director John Spon, a proponent of the fracking ban.

Spon is known for his outspoken defense of an ordinance Mansfield, Ohio passed in 2012 to prohibit fracking and injection wells within city limits.  Namely, he has lashed out at the lack of regulations enforced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources with regard to companies being required to disclose the toxins used in fracking water prior to injecting.

If the ban were to fail, McGinn said their decisions moving forward would be largely based on circumstance.

“It depends on the nature of the vote. If we feel that the people of Athens want fracking, then the people speak,” said McGinn. “But if the campaign against us is full of lies, distortion and fear-mongering, we’ll just go right back at it.”

McGinn proceeded to use Youngstown as an example of where resilience has played a big role with regard to this issue. Despite having failed to enact any sweeping bans, activists in that region have continued to advocate for what they believe in.

Although the Bill of Rights Committee is strictly locally based, members have relationships with similar groups around the state. McGinn insists that plans to collaborate and make statewide change start locally in communities like Athens.

The aforementioned event with Mansfield Law Director John Spon will be held on Thursday, Oct. 16 from 7-9 p.m. in the Athens Community Center. Those who are unable to attend can listen to or watch the program on WOUB’s respective networks. All are encouraged to attend.

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