July 30, 2014

Medina
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Bill Batchelder, Judy Cross face off in spirited debate

MEDINA — Candidates for Medina County’s 69th House District seat fielded questions Thursday night about a well-drilling process for gas and oil; Senate Bill 5, which would have limited collective bargaining; and the state budget.

Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder, the Republican incumbent, and his Democratic challenger, Judy Cross, both of Medina, took turns answering written questions from the audience at Medina Library. Many of the questions were about hydraulic fracturing.

Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder, left, and his Democratic challenger for the 69th House District, Judy Cross, answer questions Thursday night at Medina Library. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

“We are in a position where we may profit considerably as a state from drilling,” Batchelder said.

He added that bills passed under Gov. John Kasich and former Gov. Ted Strickland have strengthened the state’s position to be ready for companies to begin hydraulic fracturing operations.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves injecting water, particles and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale and release natural gas. Environmentalists have raised concerns that hydraulic fracturing can contaminate water resources, risking the lives of people and livestock, and possibly cause toxic air emissions.

“At this point, I think we have a lot of anticipatory concerns that are not reflected by what’s going on in the oil fields,” Batchelder said. He pointed to two sites in Medina County that failed to produce oil.

“As a result of that, we are probably not going to see the widespread nature of what they’re doing as a practical matter across the state,” he said.

Batchelder said there is a toll-free number people can call to learn more about hydraulic fracturing and the chemicals used.

“If there are problems which arise from someone being exposed to some byproduct of the drilling process, there’s a (number) that can be called to find out what they are using in that particular well,” Batchelder said.

But Cross said the environmental concerns shouldn’t be downplayed. In other states, she said, it has been proven that poorly constructed wells led to water contamination, and in Medina County there is a lawsuit pending in federal court from a family that claims their water well was contaminated by the process.

“I’m opposed to the putting down of chemicals when we don’t know what they are,” she said. “I think there should be full disclosure of what the chemicals are.”

Cross took issue with state laws that don’t require companies to disclose the chemicals they put into the ground during the process.

“It doesn’t make me feel good to know that if I get sick, I can call a 1-800 number to get help. I’d rather make sure that your children and other people’s children aren’t going to get sick from this,” she said.

Cross said it could be a matter of waiting until more studies on the process are available, and said jobs still could be created but possibly further down the road when more is known about the process.

“I’m glad we have Ohio workers doing this, but I don’t think even good jobs pay for killing off our environment,” Cross said.

Two groups were in the audience Thursday to hear specifically about hydraulic fracturing.

Michael Bertolone, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18, who represents oil and gas workers in the Greater Cleveland area, which includes Medina County, said he and other union members attended the meeting to support Batchelder.

“We represent 15,000 members statewide,” he said. “We’re here to say the industry has been great to us.”

But Kathie Jones, of Concerned Citizens of Medina County, said Senate Bill 315, legislation Batchelder recently supported, doesn’t protect landowners or homeowners from knowing about potential hydraulic fracturing sites.

“They need to know before, so they can have their water tested,” Jones said, adding it’s harder to prove a case after a well has been contaminated.

“I really wanted him to answer my question about that and he didn’t,” she said.

The candidates also disagreed about state funding. Batchelder touted his party’s success balancing the state budget and reducing taxes and Cross argued it was accomplished by cutting local government funds.

As a result of balancing the budget and cutting taxes since January 2011, “Ohio was fourth in the nation and first in the Midwest in job creation,” Batchelder said.

“Yes balancing the budget — good. But balancing it by taking the money out of the pockets of boards of education, libraries, and local governments — not so good,” Cross countered.

Cross said she was motivated to run, in part, by Batchelder’s support of Senate Bill 5, which included restrictions on collective bargaining in Ohio.

“I started this, I started to run because I got angry. I got very, very angry, not only by the content of Senate Bill 5, but of the way it went through,” she said.

Though S.B. 5 passed in Ohio, it eventually went to voters in 2010 as a referendum and was struck down.

Though Batchelder did not address S.B. 5 specifically, he did respond to a question about “Right-to-Work” laws , which limit a union’s ability to collect dues from nonunion members.

When asked if Batchelder wanted to make Ohio a Right-to-Work state, he responded with a simple “no.”

Batchelder, 69, served 30 years in the Ohio House before being elected as a Medina County Common Pleas Court judge, a position Cross, 67, also has held. Before serving as judge, Cross was a schoolteacher.

The 69th District includes parts of the cities of Medina and Wadsworth, and the eastern part of Brunswick Township. The townships of Medina, Wadsworth, Sharon, Granger, Hinckley, Guilford, Montville and Westfield also are included.

Contact Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.