The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the validity of a proposed anti-fracking charter in Athens County for the second year in a row on Sept. 13.
The majority decision with one dissent means the charter will not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. In the court ruling, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the proposed charters did not meet requirements set forth by the Ohio Constitution to validate a county charter.
The primary purpose of the charter was to protect the Athens County water supply by giving the county the ability to ban hydraulic fracturing and injection wells in the area.
The Athens County Bill of Rights Committee has been fighting fracking, a process in which pressurized liquid is used to fracture rock and release gas, in Southeast Ohio for years, chairman Dick McGinn said.
In 2014, after a two-year effort, the group experienced a victory: a 78 percent vote to pass an ordinance to ban fracking, injection wells and hydraulic waste in the City of Athens.
The efforts did not stop there, McGinn said. The group set their eyes on expanding their anti-fracking reforms from the City of Athens to the county.
“We moved into the county because — let’s face it — the water does not begin and end in Athens; it flows through,” McGinn said. “To protect the water, we have to protect the watershed. Virtually all of that watershed is in Athens County.”
McGinn said they then tried to pass a charter to protect the water, but ran into opposition from the Athens County Board of Elections. Court cases followed until the matter went to Husted and ultimately, the Ohio Supreme Court. All entities ruled that the charter was invalid in the way it was written.
“The same thing happened last year,” McGinn said. “We improved the charter because of what the Supreme Court ruled. We made changes exactly according to what they said, but they still ruled it was invalid. … We don’t think it was a fair decision.”
McGinn said his group is unsure whether they will propose the charter next year.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania public-interest group, provides legal guidance to local community charters such as the one proposed in Athens. Tish O’Dell, a community organizer for the defense fund, said it’s not a fracking problem that exists, but rather a democracy problem.
“If your water supply is in jeopardy, that’s affecting your right to life,” O’Dell said. “If we claim to live in a democracy and they took away our power to make laws or rules or even a charter, how are we supposed to protect ourselves?”
Caitlyn McDaniel, a first-year graduate student at Ohio University, said she is upset that she did not have a chance to vote on the matter.
“I always think that a community has a right to say yes or no, to decide altogether whether they’re going to allow fracking,” McDaniel said.
McGinn said he agrees that the people of Athens County have the right to vote on the issue, even though the Ohio Supreme Court ruling does not allow them to do so.
“Over the last two years, we’ve got 5,000 signatures and over 40 people collecting signatures for us and we got stopped by a handful of election officials and a Supreme Court that is not friendly to the wishes of the people,” McGinn said.