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Bishop Emmitt Nevels has led his congregation on Youngstown’s North Side since the mid-1970s and he is urging defeat of the proposed anti-fracking amendment to the city’s charter.
“I think it will make such a devastating negative impact upon the African Americans in our community,” Nevels said.
Issue 1 would restore local control over oil and gas drilling, which is now handled by the state. But opponents say the proposed charter amendment would do much more than that.
Nevels, who is pastor of Nevels Temple Church of God in Christ, lives in neighboring Girard and already has signed his own mineral rights lease. But he claims supporters of the amendment are trying to scare residents into giving up control of their own properties.
“It’s not something that they could take away and I think that’s what most of us are afraid of,” Nevels said.
But supporters, like City Council President candidate and Frack Free Mahoning Valley member Susie Beiersdorfer, argue it’s the oil and gas companies that are trying to exploit the less fortunate by tempting them with big lease and royalty payments.
“Big corporations tend to want to locate polluting industries in areas where there’s poor people. It’s known as a sacrifice zone,” she said.
But amendment opponent Ron Eiselstein said the decision whether to lease land for drilling should be left to the individual homeowner.
“We want to make that decision, not anybody else,” Eiselstein said.
Eiselstein runs Ohio Land Management, which he claims is the largest operator and manager of privately held property in Mahoning County. He said the amendment will effectively “redline” the city, making it impossible for city landowners, many of whom are minorities, to take advantage of something their suburban neighbors will still have.
“They’re not trying to ban Poland. They’re not trying to ban Canfield. They’re not trying to even ban Coitsville, but right across 616, that landowner will look across the street and see a landowner, his neighbor, putting a new roof on or paying his taxes while he gets nothing,” Eiselstein said. “I don’t think these people are racist. I think inadvertently they didn’t think this thing out and who does it hurt? You gotta look at the bottom line, the homeowners, the taxpayers.”
Beiersdorfer said there needs to be a balance between the economic and environmental issues surrounding fracking.
But Eiselstein, who said he’s helped a number of local landowners connect with oil and gas drilling companies, said the impact of the amendment is already being felt, claiming some drilling firms are now shying away from making deals inside city limits for fear of what the amendment will mean if it’s approved.