Pocahontas Commission Says No To Marcellus Ballot Issue
Marlinton, WV – After hearing from a portion of the Pocahontas County electorate at a special meeting Thursday night, County Commission President David Fleming got his answer on a possible ballot question regarding Marcellus shale drilling in the county – a resounding no from most in attendance.
Fleming says the most recent bill regulating Marcellus drilling practices was stripped of some crucial environmental protections prior to being approved by West Virginia legislature. He places blame on Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for taking away certain protections the Governor has called too anti-business. Fleming says the drilling issue is one that has created division in the county.
“As we’ve talked about this in previous meetings, a few times some comments would come from people, why don’t we put this on the ballot?” says Fleming. “My approach to this has been to see if we could decide something at the Commission; we haven’t been able to do that. We’ve got a petition from some nearly 800 people that are opposed to drilling; Tuesday we received petitions [from] nearly 700 people that are in favor of drilling, so signatures continue to come in from both sides of the issue.”
For Commissioner Martin Saffer, to say the petitions indicate either a pro or con attitude towards drilling loses something in translation.
“And I think that that has gotten us all off track,” says Saffer. “Because love of clean water and property rights are totally consistent with one another. In fact, the people who have been maintaining the county for years and years and generations have been excellent stewards of their water and their property rights. So there’s nothing inconsistent with that position and wanting to have good clean water.”
Sue Groves suggested using a survey rather than a ballot question because the information gathered could be much more detailed. Fleming countered that a ballot question would be less expensive and could be very informative, especially if there large voter turnout. But Commissioner Jamie Walker isn’t convinced that a ballot question would give an accurate measure of residents feelings on the issue.
“One thing that I’ve been tossing around a lot since this ballot issue was brought up, is we’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of a few over 8000 people in our county,” says Walker. “There’s only a few over 4000 of us registered. So does that mean that the 4000 people that’s not registered has absolutely no say as to what we’re going to do with their land? If we put it on the ballot, at that point we are rejecting them from having any input whatsoever on their property, their land and their rights.”
Laurie Cameron thinks the ballot question is a good idea.
“If you want to have something on the ballot, that’s a good place to have a fight,” he says. “And the people who aren’t registered, let them damn well register! Because we’re not going to stop the drillers from coming in if they want to. But there are zoning controls that we could think of that we could legally pass that would limit the damage.”
“If you believe there’s going to be no damage, then you believed the cigarette companies when they said there’s no proof that cigarettes cause cancer – right.”
Many at the meeting question whether voters have enough knowledge about the issue to decide one way or another. Others like Fred Burns say the Commissioners should focus their energies elsewhere.
“We have two big issues in Pocahontas County that you ought to be devoting all your time on right now,” he says. “Number one is jobs, number two is education. Our board of education is about to lose $500,000.00, which we might lose 16 teachers; the education of our children is more important than anything we can talk about right now.”
After further discussion, the Commissioners voted unanimously to reject a ballot question concerning Marcellus shale drilling. They took no action on the idea of creating a survey, saying only that will do what they can to continue educating county residents on the drilling issue.
A tongue-in-cheek moment added a lighter touch to the beginning of the meeting when Commissioner David Fleming presented Pocahontas resident Norman Alderman with a t-shirt with the message “I got thrown under the bus!” It was Fleming’s way of apologizing for having Alderman removed against his will from a previous Commission meeting when discussing the Marcellus issue.