Lined up out the door waiting on the sidewalk in the cold to get in, filling town hall’s meeting room to capacity — standing room only — and overflowing into the smaller meeting room and the hallway, more than 160 people turned out to vote in Ridgefield’s fracking waste ban Wednesday night, Jan. 9.
“We’re ecstatic. We’re actually humbled this many people came out for the environment,” said Michael Garguilo, leader of the petition effort to call the meeting, said after the vote.
“This is really for all the creatures and things that can’t speak for themselves,” he said.
Garguilo, a teacher, added, “I can’t wait to tell my students people do care and they came out and did this for the environment.”
The ordinance passed is a prohibition on the use or reuse of wastes from natural gas or oil extraction on property in town, disposal of it in wastewater treatment or solid waste processing facilities, as well as a ban on a long list of activities including the sale, acquisition, transfer and handling of such wastes — defined as including “all geologic or geophysical activities related to the exploration for or extraction of oil, including, but not limited, to, core and rotary drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
The meeting itself was pretty quick — it took longer to check everyone in than to pass two voice votes, one to close debate, and another to adopt the law, which mirrors ordinances passed by more than 50 other Connecticut towns.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi briefly explained the background of the proposed law, saying the selectmen had been working on an anti-fracking waste ordinance for most of last year.
“The process was moving along — slowly, as government does,” he said.
Then citizens turned in their petitions calling for a town meeting on a draft law that had been endorsed by numerous environmental groups.
After confirming they had more than the required 369 valid signatures — 2% of Ridgefield’s 18,000 voters — “we had 45 days to set a town meeting,” Marconi said.
Maronci also said that the “Ice Be Gone” product the town uses on the roads is largely a combination of salt and a molasses by-product. He said the town always gets a list of all chemicals contained in all such products it uses.
Garguilo spoke briefly, as leader of the petition effort to pass the law “on behalf of the town ecosystem.”
He thanked the Board of Selectmen and other town officials for their cooperation.
“No matter how the vote goes,” he said, “it’s amazing what a community can do when we care enough to come out.”
Closing the debate
A motion to “call the question” — closing debate — was quickly made, and passed on a voice vote, leaving further discussion to the question of whether or not to close debate.
Two voices — moderator Ed Tyrrell, speaking as a citizen not the meeting moderator, and Christopher Moomaw — argued that there should be discussion of the issue before the vote.
After the meeting, Tyrrell used to the comments period at the start of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting, read into the record the statement he’d intended to make at the town meeting.
“Fracking produces American-made oil,” he said. “It is taken from the ground by highly paid, middle class Americans who pay taxes and want to send their kids to college just as we do.
“It would be great if we did not use so much oil, but we will for years to come. I want us to use as much American-made oil as possible so we do not have to buy it from Middle East terrorist states, like Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, who cut up American journalists into pieces. These Middle East terrorist states have one main goal — to destroy Israel. We need to do everything we can to disempower them.”
In a letter to The Press, Garguilo not only thanked supporters who turned out — town registrars of voters report 161 Ridgefielders were signed into the meeting, as well as a few observers — but described the meeting and petition effort in the context of a movement to protect the environment.
“We hope the ‘yes’ vote on the ordinance will have echoing effects throughout the community. While the vote stopped ‘fracking waste,’ it was more than that. It was a message to the community, to the leaders, and to future generations, that we want action taken on concerns of human health and the environment to be a top priority,” Garguilo said. “We will not stand idly by and allow our people and ecosystems to be threatened.”