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Wednesday, May 8,2013

Youngstown voters shoot down anti-fracking ballot measure

A proposed anti-fracking amendment on the ballot in Youngstown got turned down decisively by voters in Tuesday's primary election. The proposal was based on the same template that an Athens anti-fracking group is using to propose a ban on drilling and related activities in Athens.

According to a story posted on the Youngstown Vindicator's website shortly after midnight Tuesday, voters in that Northeast Ohio industrial city rejected a citizen-proposed anti-fracking charter amendment by 57 to 43 percent (in unofficial results).

In Athens, a group calling itself the Bill of Rights Committee has been collecting signatures for a citizens ballot initiative in November to ban oil and gas drilling-related activities in Athens "and its jurisdiction." What the latter phrase means is up to interpretation, and organizers of the petition drive have suggested they're OK with leaving it that way.

Both the Athens and Youngstown proposals were based on a template provided by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based group that helps local governments with community-rights based environmental regulations. However, Youngstown's amendment wouldn't have had any effects outside the city limits.

In Youngstown, the anti-fracking amendment failed to win support from the major daily (the Vindicator), which ran an endorsement against the amendment on April 26. Organized labor in this blue-collar community also fought the charter amendment.

In the Vindicator article on Wednesday, Jaladah Aslam, staff representative for AFSCME Council 8, was quoted as saying, "Our late push to get out the vote worked. 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."

Oil and gas development and disposal wells for fracking wastes have been controversial in Youngstown, partly as a result of earthquakes near the city linked to a deep-injection well. But the prototypical Rust Belt city also has been making an economic comeback of sorts that supporters of oil and gas development argue has been helped along by the surge of deep-shale drilling in Pennsylvania and increasingly in eastern and northeastern Ohio.

Youngstown's business community also reportedly put a lot of time, energy and money into defeating the charter amendment. "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 quoted in the Vindicator. In the same article, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said the amendment's defeat showed that "the voters had no sympathy for those who want to hold us back."

Supporters of the anti-fracking charter amendment vowed to come back with another proposal.

The Vindicator article quoted Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the Community Bill of Rights Committee that supported the amendment, vowing, "We're going to have to work a little harder the next time. 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."

She added, "It's a sad day for democracy. With the resources we had, it was an incredible effort, but we were outspent by the opponents."

In Athens, Richard McGinn, a spokesperson for the Bill of Rights Committee's anti-fracking ballot initiative, said the committee is still analyzing the anti-fracking amendment's defeat in Youngstown. "Obviously, I am disappointed but I don't really know anything except the result," he said. "It was obviously very different from Mansfield and Broadview Heights (Ohio), which ran extremely effective campaigns to win in the (last) November general election."

McGinn said the local petition drive "is on schedule." The deadline to make the November ballot is July 1.

As for the Athens ballot initiative, McGinn in a previous interview said, "We hope and expect that this ordinance will stimulate a lot of healthy debate about how Athens – or any city – can protect its water supply from pollution by the oil and gas industry. That is a good thing and I am sure many creative ideas will come out of it."


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