The proposal to frack around LaDue Reservoir is off the table, but for how long?

After a groundswell of objections, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan last week removed the proposed legislation from the City Council agenda. The mayor said his action was prompted by concerns of people from both inside and outside of Akron.

He was, however, “troubled” by the “misinformation used to stir up community concern when our primary objective is to safeguard the health, economic mobility and safety of our residents.”

Misinformation? Perhaps the lack of information – timely information – resulted in the public outcry.

Akron Public Service Director Chris Ludle told council members in January, when the proposal first hit the agenda, that the city had been working on the deal with DP Energy Auburn, LLC for about a year. Yet some council members said that was news to them.

The proposal called for Akron to lease mineral rights to DP Energy, allowing the company to use hydraulic fracturing to pressurize wells to break up underground rocks at LaDue and release gas and oil deposits.

The proposal involved 475 acres around LaDue in Geauga County, with the company paying Akron a one-time fee of $237,500, or $500 per acre, and 15 percent of the royalties on natural gas and oil extracted from the well. Drilling would not have been conducted on the city’s land, but mineral rights would have allowed the company to extract the underground resources.

Though in Geauga County, LaDue is owned by Akron as part of its drinking water supply.

The mayor, clearly unhappy about the public reaction and the need to nix the deal, emphasized the financial aspect, saying the city lost an opportunity to increase revenue and help keep utility bills in check for Akron residents. He also cited a need to finance a federally mandated $1.2 billion sewer project. That project price tag is a far cry from the one-time, quarter-million payment Akron would have received from DP Energy.

The mayor denied the proposed deal had anything to do with campaign or political influence. But some critics pointed out that paperwork to create DP Auburn Energy was filed this year by former Akron councilman Patrick D’Andrea, a longtime friend of the mayor.

Geauga officials know they cannot regulate drilling due to a state law that gives that power to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. But they have questions, legitimate questions.

The environment was a major concern to some who spoke out at a forum about ensuring the safety of underground wells in Geauga, the major source of drinking water in the county. Others cautioned that the cost of cleaning up toxic waste from a drilling accident would cost well over $237,500.

Geauga officials with no general objection to the fracking method wanted to know who would pay for road repairs from the wear and tear of large trucks used in drilling operations.

And, of course, there is the issue of taxes. Akron has a tax exemption for LaDue and the surrounding land the city owns. The Geauga County auditor was unsure if selling mineral rights to a company would somehow negate that tax exemption.

It is clear this proposal was not vetted properly by the administration and council. With so many concerns, the proposal had to be stopped. There are too many unanswered questions. Geauga residents and officials need to keep a watchful eye out to ensure a drilling deal around LaDue remains off the table.

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