Council highlights fest concerns, environmental safety

The topics that typically create conflict among the residents of Athens, fests and “fracking,” dominated the discussion at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

A house fire from April’s Palmer Fest that was later ruled arson left harsh feelings festering among Athens city officials.

Mayor Paul Wiehl invited Athens City Council members to a town hall meeting this week, which will be focused on safety during fest season.

The town hall, which will take place at the West Portico of Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday, will discuss behavior that can get students in trouble with the law and how to behave appropriately at fests.

Other city and university officials, including Ohio University President Roderick McDavis, are expected to attend the town hall, Wiehl said.

“It’s basically just to reiterate the expectations of everybody who lives in the city,” he said.

Council members also accepted a resolution that calls upon the Wayne National Forest to complete an environmental impact study before leasing any land under its jurisdiction.

Council members are weary about potentially negative effects if the national forest’s land is leased for hydraulic fracturing. The resolution stated that sustainable economic development for Athens would be threatened by fracking damage.

"The method of extraction that they are talking about — deep horizontal drilling fracturing — is something that has never been practiced on this national forest,” Wayne National Forest spokesman Gary Chancey said.  “We are trying to make sure that our forest plan (understands) that type of oil and gas activity."

Wayne National Forest will release a review of new information about fracking and other methods of extracting oil and natural gas in the forest in late May, Chancey said.

After about an hour, council gave an opportunity for citizens to speak about issues not covered by the council’s agenda. One by one, a group of Athens residents stepped to the podium asking for help.

When a boulder damaged a home and two cars after breaking loose from a hill overlooking Fort Street in March, Tim and Diane Pfaff became the victims of a rockslide.

“While life has largely returned to normal, we are worried,” said Diane Pfaff. “I think the lesson of the boulder is a boulder of that size has the potential to kill someone.”

Though he says city crews did a great job of handling the removal of the boulder, Tim Pfaff said he’s looking for leadership from city council.

“It’s a public-safety issue and we need some help,” he said. “Help us to live in our houses.”

The group of about five citizens, including Tim and Diane Pfaff, called the city to stabilize the area around Fort Street.

But Councilman Steve Patterson, D-At Large, said there might not be a clear-cut solution to the problem.

“This is a tough issue and the city really has to figure how to manage this hazard zone,” he said. “The only big problem is that the steel netting is expensive and very hazardous to put up.”

But Diane Pfaff said she just wants the city to help.

“We are open to advice,” she said. “I really don’t know what to do.”

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