Petitioners are collecting signatures to call a town meeting to consider adoption of an anti-fracking ordinance — one that would not only prohibit oil and gas fracking in town, but restrict the use of by-products from the process.
“The ‘fracking waste’ petition has been met with huge support from people and businesses around town,” petition organizer Michael Gargiulo told The Press Tuesday, Oct. 30.
“We have well over 50% of the needed signatures in the past two weeks,” he said.
Petition circulators are short of the needed 369 signatures — 2% of Ridgefield’s slightly over 18,000 voters — “only because our availability to get out and allow people to sign is limited,” he said.
The petitioners have full-time jobs and are parents, he added.
“We hope to have the petition fully signed with enough signatures by November 8. That is our target date,” Garguilo said. “It really just depends on us being on the streets and finding the people.”
Before they began collecting signatures, the wording of a petition for a town meeting to vote on an “ordinance prohibiting the storage, disposal or use of waste oil, and gas exploration or extraction activities or any derivative” was reviewed and approved by Town Attorney Dave Grogins.
“I hereby determine that the matters covered by the petition for purposes of adopting an ordinance are proper subjects for action by a town meeting,” Grogins wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to First Selectman Rudy Marconi.
In view of the petition effort, the selectmen have put a hold on their own effort to draft and present voters with an anti-fracking ordinance based on a model ordinance from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
“We’re waiting for a petition,” Marconi said, that is expected from “a group of residents that support an ordinance they say has been passed by 50 municipalities in the state of Connecticut.”
The anti-fracking ordinance the petitioners are advancing has won support from environmental groups around the state, and is viewed as more stringent than the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ draft that the selectmen were considering as an alternative.
In discussion at their Oct. 24 meeting, the selectmen urged Marconi to meet with the petitioners and try to work out a compromise draft that both sides would be comfortable with.
One of the selectmen’s concerns is wording requiring “certification” that products used in town have no fracking by-products.
This certification might be very hard to obtain for some asphalt and road-paving or possibly road de-icing products, the selectmen worry.
“The Board of Selectmen felt we needed to do our due diligence assessing the ordinance as proposed,” Marconi told The Press. “And I have personally spoken to CEOs of other towns that felt it is too restrictive and broad in scope — to the point where potentially it could have a negative impact on a municipality’s ability to purchase products such as asphalt, and salt for our roads during the winter.”
The selectmen thought compromise should be possible — they weren’t opposed to an anti-fracking ordinance, they just had some concerns they hope could be addressed.
“Explain the law and the practicality,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said.
“It’s not them and us — it’s more collaborative,” said Selectman Steve Zemo. “More roll up your sleeves and let’s talk about this.”
What’s taking so long?
Marconi noted that people from the Ridgefield Action Committee for the Environment (RACE) had initially approached the selectmen about an anti-fracking ordinance months and months ago, back last winter.
“These individual are annoyed with us for taking as long as we have to approve something,” he said.
Still, Marconi said he would try.
“Let me call and see if they’re willing to meet,” he said.