HARRISVILLE TWP. — Members of an anti-fracking group once again will be able to talk about well drilling at township trustees meetings after being banned from doing so a month ago.
Trustees last week reversed their decision to ban Farm and Family Alliance, an anti-fracking group of township residents, from speaking during meetings.
Trustee Richard Indoe, who has allowed hydraulic fracturing at his 7833 Richman Road property, said he moved to ban discussion by the Farm and Family Alliance because the group was using meetings “for the advancement of their agenda.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves injecting water, particles and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale and release natural gas.
Indoe and Trustee Thomas Packard voted May 21 to prohibit discussion by the group, but Trustee Joseph Remington voted against the motion, according to meeting minutes.
On June 18, Remington made a motion to reverse the decision but limited the group to only one spokesperson. The motion also places a 10-minute time limit on well-drilling discussions at each meeting.
“I wasn’t happy about it initially,” Remington said of banning the group from talking at meetings. “If the people want to talk about it, that’s what we’re there for — to listen to the people.”
Packard voted in favor of the June 18 motion, but Indoe was against it. Indoe also wanted to reduce the time limit from 10 to five minutes, Packard said.
“I thought five minutes would be ample time,” Indoe said. “It’s OK. What the majority wants, the majority gets, and I’ll go along with it.”
Township minutes show public discussion about the possible dangers of fracking has occurred at every meeting since Feb. 7, with the exception of the April 16 meeting.
The motion to ban anti-fracking discussion at trustee meetings is legal, according to a letter from Medina County Assistant Prosecutor William Thorne to Harrisville’s fiscal officer and trustees.
“The trustees are not required to allow the utilization of their meeting as a public forum on issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with the authority of the Board of Trustees,” Thorne wrote in the letter dated May 25. “Thus, it is entirely appropriate for the Board to limit public participation to issues having to do with matters within the authority of the Board of Trustees.”
Thorne also said in the letter he believed the motion was not a conflict of interest for Indoe because trustees cannot control fracking in the area. The letter mentions townships may not only limit public participation at meetings but can prohibit it.
Lafayette Township Trustee Lynda Bowers, who also is a member of the Ohio Township Association, previously told The Gazette that if the Ohio Revised Code doesn’t specifically grant townships the authority to do something, as in the case of banning hydraulic fracturing, they can’t do it.
Packard said Tuesday he “felt good” about reversing the ban.
“I think even if we can’t do anything (about fracking), we represent them and they ought to be able to speak at the meetings,” Packard said.
Remington said there is too little information for him to form an opinion about fracking.
“I’ve been watching Mr. Indoe’s well very closely, and everything seems to be going on without any problems,” Remington said.
Joanne Slorgie, a township resident and Farm and Family Alliance member, regularly attends the trustees meetings. She said she was glad the decision was reversed, but she doesn’t agree with the rule that limits the drilling discussion to one spokesperson for the group.
“If I talk, the rest of the people don’t get an opportunity,” Slorgie said Wednesday. “And if they talk, I don’t get an opportunity. That’s the part I’m concerned about.”
Slorgie said she hoped that trustees, in time, would allow more people to speak and for longer time periods.
“You have to count on the people to inform the trustees of what’s going on,” Slorgie said.
Contact Michelle Sprehe at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.