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Both sides of fracking debate plan next move

March 30, 2014 9:00 am  •  By Becky Malkovich

Despite a recent loss at the polls, anti-fracking activists will continue their efforts to ban high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Johnson County.

A non-binding referendum seeking to ban fracking in the county was turned down by nearly 60 percent of voters earlier this month, but the news wasn’t all bad, according to Annette McMichael of SAFE, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment.

“I know it sounds like spin but it means about 42 percent of the voters don’t want fracking in Johnson County,” she said. “I’m convinced if not for the media blackout, we would have been well over 50 percent.”

Local newspapers in the county declined anti-fracking advertising in the days leading up to the vote, she said.

“That hurt us tremendously. The opposition was in the newspaper but we weren’t given that opportunity,” she said.

Johnson County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw sees the outcome of the vote differently.

“Historically, if a referendum gets over 50 percent of the vote, it’s a good barometer of what people think. I believe the vote reflected the will of the people,” he said.

Moving forward was made easier by the vote, he said.

“I tried to get permission from the county board to create a, for lack of a better term, fracking oversight committee with opinions and people from both sides to look at potential issues if fracking does comes here — what do we do to protect the roads, how will we handle an influx of people — but there was such an outcry from them (anti-fracking activists) it was pulled from the agenda,” he said.

That’s an idea he would like to revisit now that voters have had their say.

“I don’t want us to be ill-prepared. We don’t solve anything and we do a disservice if we wait for it to be here,” he said. “We need to address these issues before it happens, if it even does happen.”

The findings of such a committee would be of use even if fracking doesn’t take off in the county, he said.

“The kind of information we get would help us down the road with other economic development projects, for instance if a manufacturing plant wanted to locate here,” he said. “It would be good information to have.”

The anti-fracking activists will also be focusing on information — the dissemination of it — in coming months.

“We need to do a lot more educating, not only about fracking but the community bill of rights, how it helps and what it takes to pass,” McMichael said. “The opposition spread a lot of disinformation about it, saying farmers wouldn’t be able to farm and such. A community bill of rights can be written any way the county wants and it was wrong of them to portray it that way.”

A proposed ordinance establishing a community bill of rights was presented to the county board last week but no action was taken.

“The bottom line is to keep fracking out of Johnson County and whatever it takes to do that, we will do, whether that means working toward unseating commissioners who don’t agree with our position or passing a community bill of rights, which seems the logical thing to do,” she said.


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