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Fracking moratorium comes closer to fruition

SANFORD — A two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — in Lee County came one step closer to reality Monday evening as the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of it after a heated exchange involving two board members.

Following a public hearing, the commissioners voted 5-2 on the first reading of the moratorium, with commissioners Andre Knecht and Kirk Smith voting against. Passing the ordinance requires a second reading and vote, but no public hearing. The second reading now is scheduled for the board’s Dec. 7 meeting.

Of the nearly two dozen people in attendance, five spoke in favor of the moratorium while three were in opposition. The people who spoke for the moratorium — under which the commissioners intend to research the effects of fracking — primarily questioned the effects to property and public services in Lee County, while moratorium opponents urged the commissioners to listen to experts and state law.

The N.C. legislature passed a bill in September prohibiting local governments from passing ordinances related to fracking, and this moratorium covers the practice, as well as all other oil and gas extraction activities. The moratorium would violate that law, according to its opponents, and Knecht said he was concerned that Lee County would face unknown repercussions from the decision. In addition to Lee County, the counties of Anson, Chatham, Rockingham and Stokes, as well as the city of Walnut Cove, have passed moratoriums; Bakersville and Creedmoor have banned the practice altogether.

“The state has enacted rules on moratoriums,” Knecht said. “I don’t believe this will hold regardless, and I don’t want to give people false hope. What concerns me is I don’t have a problem with the board going through the proper channels to give our concerns to the state, but just as we run our county a certain way, there’s a proper hierarchy here.”

Commissioner Chairwoman Amy Dalrymple asked, “So you think there would be backlash from the legislature?”

“I’m just throwing that out there,” Knecht said. “If there was true weight [behind the moratorium], that would be one thing, but I want to make sure people understand if they really want change, they have to go to the legislature. I don’t believe this moratorium will stand on any legal grounds.”

Commissioner Robert Reives Sr. said, “I respect each side, but I think it’s equally important we let people know how we really feel about Lee County. We’ve pretty much been dictated to whether you’re a property owner or not. I understand the law to mean we probably don’t [have any rights of enforcement with the moratorium], but people would know how we actually feel.”

Reives said his goal in voting for the moratorium was not to stop fracking, which he said he does not believe the moratorium will do. Instead, it was to show people who may want to frack in Lee County that there’s not widespread support for the practice.

In related news, is the fracking moratorium legal?

Commissioner Tim Sloan said he supports the moratorium because he views it as a way to get answers to some of the questions he has about water quality.

“I’m voting for this moratorium so this is really looked at and researched,” he said.

Another concern, which Commissioner Larry “Doc” Oldham raised, was the lack of influence by local leaders.

“The county has had no input at all, and now we have an opportunity to at least express how we feel abut it,” he said.

That’s when Smith spoke up, saying he took umbrage with the idea that “we have no say.”

“I’ve attended many of [the state Mining Commission’s meetings on fracking],” Smith said. “I’ve seen [EnvironmentaLEE members] Ms. [Debbie] Hall and Ms. [Keely] Wood. And I’ve not seen most of you [the other commissioners] there.”

Oldham interrupted Smith as he continued to speak, saying that he was disinterested in Smith’s comments.

“That’s fine,” Smith said. “Plug your ears and get under the table. The mining commission went out of its way to go to sites around the state … . ”

After Oldham interrupted again, Smith said he had finished talking.

“No, I’m done,” he said after Dalrymple asked Oldham to allow Smith to finish. “I’m not going to say anything else. I’m done.”

“Before we take the vote, I do appreciate everybody who came to speak for and against,” Dalrymple said. “This is a difficult decision that’s made even more difficult by the legislature taking away local control. I was at a lot of the meetings that the mining commission held like the big one in Chapel Hill. I tried to talk to Senator [Phil] Berger, but do you know what he said? I was told it was too complicated, and I wouldn’t understand it. So we have tried. For leaders that say they’re for small government and the strongest government is at the local level, and that’s the voice that needs to be heard, they’re certainly not showing that with their actions.”

Dalrymple also said that the moratorium should not be viewed as an “anti-fracking document.”

“It’s a study of what fracking would mean to Lee County and how we go about making it fit,” she said.

In other business, the board:

— Set its December meeting schedule. The board will meet at 3 p.m. on Dec. 7 and 4 p.m. on Dec. 21. The time change for Dec. 7 is to accommodate traffic for the Sanford Christmas parade, which begins at 7 p.m. that evening.

— Approved unanimously an addition to the definition of smoking, for the purposes of a ban, to include vaping devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes. The ban prohibits the use of tobacco products on all county-owned property, which includes parks.

— Appointed Danielle Mahoney as deputy clerk to the board of commissioners. Mahoney is a local government management fellow with the county manager’s office.

This article was written by Brandi Brown from The Sanford Herald, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.