Grass-roots groups in Medina and Portage counties are trying to get community bill of rights charters approved by voters on Nov. 8.
Sustainable Medina County is circulating petitions to put the issue before voters in a grass-roots campaign to block the Nexus natural gas pipeline and a pipeline compressor station west of Wadsworth in Guilford Township.
The current structure of Medina County government would remain intact under the proposed charter, but the charter would give the county’s elected officials the authority to protect residents from “corporate harm.” In addition, the people’s right to initiative and referendum would be codified under the plan to give them more control.
It is the second time that such an effort has been undertaken in Medina County.
“This charter will empower the people of our county to say no to Nexus and its threats to the health and safety of our families and the environment,” said spokeswoman Kathie Jones of Wadsworth Township.
The goal is to give the people a voice in whether the pipeline project across northern Ohio is in the best interest of Medina County and whether local residents are willing to expose their families and neighborhoods to the risk, she said.
The $2 billion pipeline project running through Medina, Wayne, Summit and Stark counties needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
In order to block the pipeline, Medina County’s community bill of rights would have to be approved by voters and go into effect before the pipeline wins federal approval, expected in late 2016.
The major concern in Portage County is injection wells for drilling wastes that threaten drinking water and the goal is “to legitimize democracy,” said Gwen Fischer of Hiram, a spokeswoman for the Portage Community Rights Group.
The new petition-signing efforts got under way this week and are among five community bill of rights efforts under way in Ohio to protect communities from drilling. Similar initiative have begun in Athens County plus in the cities of Columbus and Youngstown.
The local groups have been working with the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to assert their rights and protect their communities from drilling, pipelines, compressor stations and injection wells.
“Ohio communities are no longer willing to accept a legal and legislative system that forces fracking and other corporate harms into communities, without the people’s consent,” said Tish O’Dell of Broadview Heights, Ohio organizer for the defense fund. “These initiatives are about people using their right to self-govern to protect their own health, safety and welfare, when they realize that no one else will.”
State government, the groups charge, is working with the oil and gas industry to block them from protecting themselves.
The drilling industry has said it is confident that such measures are illegal under state law that gives the sole authority over drilling to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The deadline for submission to local election boards is in June.
Last year, the Medina County group gathered 5,000 signatures, more than the required 4,900 that were needed. Last August, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ruled the issue off the Nov. 3 ballot in Medina and two other counties.
For more information on the Medina County charter proposal, go to www.sustainablemedinacounty.org.
For information on the Portage County campaign, go to www.portagecommunityrightsgroup.org.