By Joe Rehana, ©H&R Media
The Johnson County commissioners met for a regularly scheduled meeting Monday in which a community rights’ group opposing fracking returned in hopes of leaving with a referendum for local control approved for the March ballot.
The commissioners discussed the request and heard arguments in favor of it but chose to take no vote on the measure and instead said it was in keeping with past referendum requests to move forward with a petition drive.
Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) steering committee member Stephen Nickels and community rights coordinator Natalie Long were joined by about a dozen hydraulic fracturing opponents with whom several spoke before the board.
The group now has until Dec. 16, to collect 374 signatures in order for their question to be placed on the March ballot.
Long said that while it would have been more convenient had the board approved the measure Monday, she and SAFE were optimistic in the number of people interested in regaining local control over corporate activities in Johnson County. She read the proposed question before the board, which asks, “Shall the people’s right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health and safety?”
Several Johnson County residents spoke before the board in favor of the ballot initiative while expressing their concerns in regards to hydraulic fracturing saying it would leave the environment in ruins. Vienna resident Richard Craig spoke out at the meeting saying that as “scary” as the environmental issues are, he has another issue, which is “forced pooling.” Craig said that due to this “forced pooling” clause, hydraulic fracturing could happen on his property whether he “wanted it or not” and asked the commissioners to move forward on placing the referendum on the ballot.
“I think it would look good on this group if you do something tonight, then you are showing the voters that, OK, maybe there is a concern here and we’re at least going to meet these people half way,” Craig said.
While the commissioners chose not to automatically place the referendum on the ballot, they offered the group encouragement saying that getting out and knocking on doors would help to educate the people of Johnson County to the concerns they brought before the board.
In other new business on the commissioners’ agenda Monday was the approval of the Regional Office of Education #02 budget brought before the board by ROE #02 regional superintendent Janet Ulrich. The ROE #02 serves the counties of Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union to “promote quality education for the school children and citizens of southernmost Illinois.” Ulrich said she made a promise the year before to return with a reduced budget request and in keeping with that promise presented a budget request of zero-dollars. The commissioners thanked Ulrich for her work and in keeping with her promise and approved the budget.
The commissioners also discussed the county’s 2014 budget, as its approval is required on file in the county clerk’s office for inspection by the public 15 days before the fiscal year begins, which is the first of December. The commissioners are said to be close to approving the budget, which was awaiting the outcome of Ambulance Union contract negotiations. The budget discussion was tabled during the regular meeting Monday to be returned to in an executive session held afterwards.
After highway and county bills were approved in the amounts of $85,980.70 and $33,610.78 respectively, commissioner Ernie Henshaw shared with the board and department heads his meeting with architectures and engineers from Shawnee Survey and Consulting on the proposal of constructing a new county building. The proposed idea would be to consolidate all of the county’s offices into one building, which its location is still undecided.
The next regularly scheduled commissioners meeting is set for Nov. 18 to begin at 3:30 p.m.