VIENNA – Mitch Garrett fears a so-called community bill of rights in Johnson County would put his company out of business, he said.
Garrett is a member of a coalition announced Wednesday that opposes a March 18 referendum on whether the county should ban fracking. He is president of Shawnee Professional Services, an engineering consulting firm.
The coalition, Citizens Opposed to Johnson County Fracking Proposition, was announced by Johnson County Commissioner Ernie Henshaw.
“We decided we needed to form a committee and start trying get our opinions heard,” Henshaw said.
While fracking is at the forefront of the debate, a broader issue worrying Garrett and others is an anticipated proposal that would establish a community bill of rights they say is being driven by influences outside Johnson County.
The referendum, if passed, is seen as leverage to be used with county commissioners to pass a proposed community bill of rights ordinance, one opponents fear would go beyond fracking. The ballot question is non-binding.
A news conference on the subject got heated Wednesday after some in the audience challenged the outside influence claim.
The opposition group points to a May 2013 ordinance in Mora County, N.M., the first county in the country to ban fracking and other hydrocarbon extraction under a “local bill of rights.”
“If something like this is passed in Johnson County, it puts our firm out of business,” Garrett said while maintaining the ordinance goes beyond fracking.
The ordinance can be found on the website of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund under a section for oil and gas drilling. There are other ordinances listed, addressing land use, genetically modified organisms, and other issues.
Henshaw is among those who believe the Defense Fund is dictating the local bill of rights movement, not local residents. He also said Mora County is now spending resources in a legal fight over its ban, something he does not want in Johnson County.
Tony Gerard of rural Vienna, who circulated petitions to place the referendum on the ballot, said the allegation of outside influence is untrue.
“I kept getting irritated at this out-of-state interest (allegation). Every time that I go to a meeting, I just look around and see all my Johnson County neighbors,” he said.
Gerard is also perplexed by Henshaw’s lobbying in opposition to the referendum, he said.
Henshaw said he is involved in the opposition movement because he does not believe voters are “getting the full story.”