Commissioners approve moratorium on fracking

After having chosen to remove further discussion on the formation of a Johnson County Fracking Oversight Committee until February, commissioner Ernie Henshaw said he wanted the debate on the committee to come to an end and put it up for a vote at Monday’s regularly scheduled commissioners’ meeting.

The motion unanimously passed.

Henshaw said the committee would be made up of seven to ten people to address fracking.

“Whether that be through ordinances for road issues, whether that be requirements of a fracking company [to provide] baseline water testing; whatever that may be that this group comes up with, [it] would be an advisory committee only [to] bring suggestions back to the county board for approval,” Henshaw said of the committee’s proposed duties before the vote.

Only a handful of fracking opponents who were at the previous meeting in which the oversight committee was hotly debated were in attendance Monday with several saying the agenda caught them off guard. Community organizers who were instrumental in gathering signatures for a March ballot initiative seeking the ban of fracking through a Community Bill of Rights said they were disappointed by the commissioners’ vote, adding that they believe the commissioners will be overwhelmed in March by the results of Bill of Rights’ initiative.

After the motion passed the commissioners moved on to other unfinished business taking a personnel policy for Johnson County off the table to be discussed later in an executive session and approving a contract between Charlie Goines and Johnson County over animal control.

Under “New Business” in an unrelated matter to the oversight committee, but related to fracking, Johnson County resident Belinda Halverson read a prepared statement on the health hazards fracking brings to the community, asking that the commissioners consider her remarks when making decisions regarding fracking.

“Hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act,” Halverson said, adding that the chemicals used in fracking combine to create a toxic soup that will likely escape and poison drinking water. “Those who cannot speak for themselves depend on us to speak for them.”

The commissioners thanked Halverson for her remarks and moved on to the remaining two items listed under new business on the agenda: hotel/motel tax, and the recycling container at Vienna City Park update.

While the update on the recycling container moved quickly as it was said the container was ready and the holdup was on the receiving end, the commissioners spent several minutes discussing the hotel/motel tax situation and what its funding went on to serve. The hotel/motel tax collected by Johnson County only includes the collection of taxes from five sites, the commissioners said. This past year the tax only amounted to $758, all of which was forwarded to Illinois’ Southernmost Tourism Association. The Commissioners agreed that the marketing Johnson County receives from the association far outweighs its cost and talked about providing more funds to the association. A motion was made and passed to put the topic back on the agenda for the next meeting in which the commissioners would vote to provide more funds to the Tourism Association.

With more “winter weather” forecasted for the weekend, Johnson County highway engineer Steve Kelley informed the commissioners of a short supply of cinders.

Highway and county bills were approved in the amounts of $43,089.69 and $86,663.03 respectively.

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