Anti-Fracking Activists Call For More Public Comment on Wayne National Forest But Make Mockery Of Opportunity to Give It
Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held three public meetings regarding leasing federal minerals located in the Wayne National Forest (WNF). The meetings were held over a course of three days: the first meeting took place in Marietta, followed by Athens, and Ironton, Ohio. EID attended all three meetings in their entirety and witnessed, firsthand, how radical activists made a mockery of the opportunity to give public comment.
If the BLM thought the Athens meeting would go similarly to the first meeting in Marietta, where impacted citizens took the time to ask questions and submit public comment, they were sadly mistaken. In fact, the second meeting in Athens, a known anti-fracking activist hot bed, was the exact opposite of the previous night in Marietta. In fact, activists’ behavior got so out of hand at the Athens meeting that BLM had to shut down the meeting early.
Unlike the Marietta meeting, which resulted in headlines like “Citizens Gather to Learn Wayne National Forest Property Leasing,” the headlines after the Athens meeting were more along these lines: “Wayne forest oil and gas drilling public forum heats up, gets called off early.”
This video below shows just why this meeting wasn’t exactly productive, thanks to the behavior of activists:
So why was there such a contrast between the two meetings? Interestingly, the Marietta area will host the bulk of oil and gas activity if BLM approves leasing in WNF. More than half of the proposed acreage can actually be found in Washington and Monroe Counties, or 51 of the 57 parcels. So when nearly 300 landowners turned out to that meeting Tuesday night, they did so to have their questions answered about activity that could potentially occur on their property and to show support for the jobs development would create. As such, the meeting was educational, informative, and allowed for rational and organized public input. The following video from The News Center shows this:
Athens County, on the other hand, has the smallest acreage under consideration for leasing, and as such their Environmental Assessment will not even start until both the Marietta and Ironton units are finalized. As this Facebook post below from the anti-fracking group, Buckeye Forest Council demonstrates, activists put out a desperate plea for their folks to attend the BLM meeting in Athens in response to the overwhelming majority of civil supporters at the Marietta meeting.
The activists were right about one thing: the Marietta meeting was packed, wall-to-wall. As you can see above, attendees signed into the meeting and mingled with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service employees in a constructive and civil process. There was no screaming or displays of disrespect to any of the federal employees. Directly behind the sign-in area, there was also an area for formal public comment, where attendees could sit and write their thoughts for or against leasing. The packed room in Marietta represents an overwhelming majority of supporters, largely comprised of landowners.
At the Athens meeting, on the other hand, instead of making an effort to be heard in a way that actually counts, activists came with the intent of disrupting the event. This is evident because of the 200 people who attended the meeting, there were only 50 who signed in, and less than 30 who submitted public comment. Of those who signed in or submitted real and appropriate comment, the overwhelming majority were supporters of leasing.
As attendees entered the Athens Community Center room, security asked all attendees to refrain from bringing in signs (for or against leasing). The supporters of leasing immediately took their signs back to their table outside of the room, while the activists ignored this security protocol, as you can see from the below picture:
Then as the BLM gave a presentation explaining the process and procedures associated with the Environmental Assessment, the activists started heckling and screaming at the federal employees. They then proceeded to “submit” their comments by throwing paper planes at the BLM representatives. And they weren’t bashful about their immature behavior, either: Appalachia Resist, even boasted about what they did in a press release:
One man dumped a stack of petitions at the feet of Scardinia, (Tony Scardinia, Wayne National Forest Supervisor), saying “1300 signatures and they all say no!” The crowd took up cries of “WE SAY NO! WE SAY NO!” and “WE ARE NOT A DUMPING GROUND! DON’T FRACK THE WAYNE!” as they let loose with a cavalcade of paper airplanes flying towards Scardinia. The paper airplanes read “Don’t Frack the Wayne”.
Of course, their so-called public comments did not include names or addresses of the protester, nor did they provide any specific reasons for their claims.
Interestingly enough, Alyssa Bernstein, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics, recounted her version of the events, stating:
“It was simply the kind of more-or-less orchestrated shouting done at peaceful demonstrations. To my knowledge, nobody did anything more aggressive than throw paper airplanes. The shouting by the citizens opposing the fracking proposal was directed mainly at the officials and was not aggressive. As far as I saw, there was no aggressive conduct on the part of anyone.”
But a supporter of leasing who attended the meeting was actually spit on by the activists. Armando Mendoza reported:
“Rather than a conversation, debate, and civilized discussion, the anti-shale extremists turned Wednesday night’s public hearing on shale development in the Wayne into a circus. One of the environmental radicals even spit in my face. Others threw paper at the BLM and Forest Service officials as they attempted to explain the process. But based on the “show” Wednesday night, it’s clear the environmental radicals opposed to domestic energy development are more interested in the politics of distraction than engaging in an informed public debate. Each person who spit and threw paper at BLM and Forest Service officials and refused to engage in a civilized discussion should be ashamed.”
After personally witnessing this public meeting from start to finish, our only guess is that Dr. Bernstein was not physically present at that the same meeting that actually took place in Athens last week, where activists were not “peaceful”. In fact, it is hard to believe that the Director of the Institute of Applied and Professional Ethics would think that spitting on supporters of leasing, and federal employees would be labeled as such.
Take a look at the video of what happened, you’ll also note the guy in the back who took out a bag of public comments, turned it upside down, and dumped it on the floor.
After this spectacle, the activists proceeded to chant, but were surprised when the supporters in the room, started chanting back. A group of LEASE supporters shouted “It’s our property,” “Keep your hands off our property,” and “We want jobs!”
At this point, as the room got completely out of control, BLM must have realized that a civil meeting would not occur. After all, most present were not actually there to receive any information or have their comments taken seriously. Not surprisingly, the BLM was forced to end the meeting early.
Anti-fracking groups have been adamant they need more opportunities to give public comment, yet, when they have the opportunity to submit comment or even to give oral comment to an official of BLM, they instead chose to be disruptive and disrespectful.
Despite having ample opportunities to submit comments, we won’t be surprised if they continue to request public hearings, no doubt in an effort to simply delay the process entirely (as if forcing the federal agency to shorten their meeting wasn’t enough). But the question then becomes why should taxpayers be forced to pay for another public meeting, when these anti-fracking extremists will simply conduct another unproductive meeting of chaos?
Further, it’s pretty clear that the activists were well aware that the BLM is accepting public comment on the matter.
In fact, the Buckeye Forest Council actually encouraged activists on Facebook not to attend the meeting in Ironton Thursday night, where the meeting ended up being civil and split fairly evenly between those supportive and those opposed to this leasing. The activists clearly state that “in lieu of attending” they encouraged opponents of drilling to submit public comment, another clear indicator that they know the BLM is in fact accepting public comment on the issue.
Even one of their leaders apparently feels that they have submitted enough comment. As Roxanne Groff, the leader of the Athens County Fracking Action Network has stated,
“They have enough information from the public to say no now.”
These two meetings highlight what we have watched play out in Colorado and across the country, where anti-fracking activists have shown absolutely no respect for the law, procedure, federal employees, or the right of others to attend and receive information as part of the civil process. What we saw in Athens was not a gathering of concerned citizens– it was a campaign of chaos conducted only as a media stunt, with a goal of invoking fear into what should be a productive public meeting. We’ve certainly seen similar stunts taking place nationwide by the Keep it in the Ground Movement, 350.org, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Food & Water Watch and the Rainforest Action Network among others.
Hopefully BLM will listen to the landowners who took the time to submit comments, discuss the process and ask real questions about their properties over reckless activists who disregard civility and facts to achieve their agendas.