Anti-fracking proposal will get vote in January

An anti-fracking ordinance local environmentalists have been pushing for 11 months will go to a public hearing and town meeting early in the new year.

Petitioners troubled by “fracking” — the hydraulic fracturing process used in oil and gas extraction — had collected signatures to force a town meeting on a proposed law banning fracking and also the use, storage or transportation of fracking by-products in town.

The Board of Selectmen scheduled the town meeting vote sought by the petitioners on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 in town hall.

The selectmen also set a public hearing on the proposal for Saturday, Jan. 5, at 10 a.m. in town hall.

Under town charter and state statutes, petitioners seeking to call a town meeting need to collect valid signatures equal to 2% of the town’s registered voters. With a little over 18,000 voters in town, that’s a few more than 360 signatures.

A group headed by Michael Garguilo had circulated the petitions. He told The Press Nov. 9 that 674 people had signed the petition seeking a town meeting vote on the fracking issue.

Town Clerk Wendy Lionetti then had to verify the signatures — or enough of them to meet the 2% requirement.

“The town clerk has verified the signatures,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi the Nov. 28 Board of Selectmen’s meeting. “… There were well over 400 — more than enough.”

The selectmen then formally accepted the petition, acknowledging enough signatures verified as valid — and giving themselves a month and a half to hold a town meeting.

“We have to set a date for a town meeting within 45 days,” Marconi said before the meeting.

The public hearing wasn’t required by the petitions, but Marconi and the selectmen thought it would be a good idea.

“It would be important for most citizens to have public hearings associated with this, so people can be educated on this and know how they should vote,” he said.

One of the reasons local fracking opponents petitioned for the town meeting is that the selectmen — while not opposing their request for an ordinance — had some concerns and discussed it for months and months, but didn’t send it to voters.

Uneasy with aspects of the fracking ban as initially proposed, the selectmen even had an alternative version drawn up.

Both petitioners’ proposals would ban the use of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction in town and also address related issues, such as the storage or disposal of fracking wastes or byproducts here, or their transportation through town.

While fracking for oil extraction seems unlikely in Ridgefield, the selectmen were uneasy with wording that concerned the use of materials that contain by-products of the fracking process — which are sometimes reused in construction fill, or in commercial products such as road paving materials, or de-icing products.

The original ordinance proposal from the environmental activists required that contractors or others working in town provide certification that products they’re using do not contain fracking waste. The selectmen wondered whether people using purchased products could reasonably be expected to know the origin of all component materials.

Kristin Quell-Garguilo, who first appeared before the selectmen back in January to push for an anti-fracking ordinance, wrote the board in September urging action on the requested ordinance. She said the reuse of fracking wastes spread toxins such as “radioactive radium, lead and chloride.”

The ordinance wording proposed by the environmentalists had been passed by 49 Connecticut towns and cities, five New York County legislatures, and 156 municipal corporations in New York, Quell-Garguilo wrote to the selectmen.

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