On the evening of November 18th, nearly 200 Athens County Residents, ranging in age from two to ninety-three, gathered at the Athens Community Center to publicly shame Forest Service and BLM officials who are yet again proposing to open the Wayne National Forest for Fracking. A similar plan was proposed in 2011, but the community blowback against that plan stopped it dead in its tracks.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, the feeling in the room was one of frustration and deja vu, as participants were asked to mill about from table to table in a crowded room where accountability and legitimate information from officials was an impossibility. At one point, Tony Scardinia, Wayne National Forest Supervisor addressed the crowd, confirming that he would not take questions in a public hearing format, but only informally in a one-on-one format. As he spoke, many members of the crowd held up signs that read “NO CONSENT”.
Fed up, one woman finally addressed Scardinia directly, saying, “You say you are here to answer our questions, but we only have one question. What part of No don’t you understand?” Another woman, visibly pregnant (A recent Johns Hopkins study has made the link between fracking and birth defects), said, “I feel like we were just here. In 2012, they tried to frack the Wayne. What did we say?” The crowd responded loudly, “WE SAID NO!”. One man dumped a stack of petitions at the feet of Scardinia, saying “1300 signatures, and they all say no!” The crowd took up cries of “WE SAY NO! WE SAY NO!” and “WE ARE NOT A DUMPING GROUND! DON’T FRACK THE WAYNE!” as they let loose with a cavalcade of paper airplanes flying towards Scardinia. The paper airplanes read “Don’t Frack the Wayne”.
Soon after that, the Forest Service and BLM shut down the event, ending it at least an hour before the scheduled end time of 8:30.
]Adding to the tension was the heavy law enforcement presence, which many attendees objected to as the event was billed as open and welcoming to the public. Though none of the protestors were violent, as the BLM shut down the meeting, one law enforcement officer used his baton to shove people to the door, sparking public outcry.
It should be noted that there were eight counter-protesters there, compared to the nearly 200 community members there to vocally oppose fracking. At least one of the counter protestors was paid to be there by the oil and gas industry.