Public should be heard

COVID-19 has forced most units of government to alter how they interact with the public. No reasonable person questions the necessity of using technology to avoid in-person gatherings of people who may help the coronavirus spread.

But the trade-off between public health and the public’s right to express opinions to officials has to be minimized. To that end, Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra issued a ruling Thursday. He granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from holding an online “meeting” today to discuss a proposal that injection wells be drilled near St. Clairsville.

Injection wells are used to dispose of certain waste products from oil and natural gas wells. Specifically in this case, the proposal by Omni Energy Group LLC would use two wells for disposal of brine, which contains various chemicals. The wells would be located near the intersection of Interstate 70, U.S. 40 and Ohio 331 in Richland Township.

Omni Energy’s proposal has generated controversy for months. For the company to proceed, it must obtain permits from ODNR.

In order to obtain input from the public, ODNR has scheduled an online session for 12:30-2 p.m. today.

Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray NewCo which was formed to acquire the assets of Murray Energy Corp. during bankruptcy proceedings, has his corporate headquarters near the proposed well site.

He filed court action seeking to stop the “pubic” session. He claimed participation would be limited due to the meeting’s online format.

Vavra agreed with Murray’s premise. He said the format would not guarantee Murray’s right to be heard. Therefore, he ruled, the meeting cannot go forward today.

Vavra made the right decision. The idea of public hearings is to gain as much imput as possible on proposals such as that by Omni Energy.

Surely ODNR can find a better way to accomplish that.


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