A lawsuit brought under Ohio’s Public Records Act was filed today in the Fifth District Court of Appeals in New Philadelphia, Ohio against the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) for withholding records requested by Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water (SOASOW). SOASOW has repeatedly asked the Conservancy District for the addresses of cottage owners who lease land around reservoirs controlled by the MWCD. SOASOW seeks the information in order to communicate directly with residents around the reservoirs and to counter misinformation disseminated by MWCD about the dangers associated with unconventional shale drilling, known as "fracking."
"The MWCD believes that it can operate as a separate kingdom unto itself based on supposedly loose wording in the Ohio Revised Code, and the obstructive interpretations of regulations its publicly-paid attorneys provide," stated Lea Harper of SOASOW, who has repeatedly challenged MWCD policies and actions. "When all we have is records request results and no opportunity for discourse or to have our questions answered, by the MWCD staff, Board or Conservancy Court, to withhold records adds insult to injury. The Conservancy District continues to defy public accountability and resist requests for greater transparency, so the lawsuit is our only recourse."
Terry Lodge, attorney representing SOASOW, added that "When every county treasurer’s office in the state would provide a list of all taxpayers upon request, but the MWCD refuses to provide addresses of lessors who provide income to the conservancy district, there is something obviously misguided about the MWCD’s view of its public transparency obligations."
The public records request lawsuit is just one initiative undertaken by SOASOW and others seeking to hold the MWCD liable for future damages caused by leasing public land for fracking and for selling public water to service the new, temporary and highly unregulated industry in the area. "People have the right to know how the MWCD’s decisions are going to detrimentally affect them and their property values," continued Lea Harper. "We must have the means to reach affected people to counter the industry-biased propaganda of the MWCD. This is a democracy, last I checked. We pay property taxes to support the MWCD. We are demanding access to information needed to counterbalance the special interests that are driving the MWCD’s self-serving decisions at potentially catastrophic public cost."
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.