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Jackson candidates drill down on fracking

The three Democratic challengers in the Jackson County commissioners race took the sitting commissioners to task for their inaction on fracking at a candidate forum last week.

“If elected one of the first items on the agenda will be a resolution to oppose fracking in Jackson County and I will push for its adoption,” said Brian McMahan, a challenger for commissioner chairman. “Common sense tells you when you pump chemicals into the ground and contaminate well water that is not good for Jackson County.”

While fracking is primarily a state issue, some local leaders around the state have passed symbolic resolutions on fracking in various form or fashion — some outright opposing fracking on their home turf and others simply calling on the state to slow down, undertake thorough studies of unintended consequences and ensure standards are in place before green lighting the controversial energy exploration.

The three sitting Jackson commissioners up for re-election have declined to chime in with an anti-fracking resolution, however.

All three challengers said they would change that if elected.

Watch the forum, courtesy of the Canary Coalition:

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“I am against this. Our water is the most precious thing we have,” said Boyce Deitz, a Democratic challenger for commissioner. “To do anything that would jeopardize that, I hate to use the word stupid, but it is kind of stupid.”

Democratic challenger Joe Ward also said he would support an anti-fracking resolution at the county level.

The resolutions are little more than lip service, however, since the state rules as currently written expressly prevent local government from passing their own fracking laws that run counter to the states.

Still, county commissioners should stand up and do the right thing, Deitz said. 

“If enough people in this state do that, then they will start listening and if they don’t we have still made a statement ourselves,” Deitz said.

“When we have an out of control legislature that tries to tie the hands of county government, it is a problem,” added McMahan, in one of several jabs the Democratic commissioner candidates took at the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the course of the debate.

But the sitting commissioners on stage at the forum — Jack Debnam, Charles Elders and Doug Cody — said a resolution on fracking is unnecessary.

“We have been assured by Jim Davis there would be no fracking in Western North Carolina,” Elders said, referencing the Republican state senator who represents the regions. “Gasses are formed in shale rock and there is no shale rock in Western North Carolina. Personally I don’t think there will be any fracking in Western North Carolina and I don’t want there to be.”

But the three sitting commissioners said their main reason for not passing an anti-fracking resolution was that the county’s existing industrial development ordinance dating to 2002 already does the job. It regulates asphalt plants, heavy industry and mining operations — limiting where they can be conducted to avoid impacts to neighbors — but doesn’t outright ban them.

“Our ordinance that has been in place 12 years would carry more weight than some resolution that has come up in the past six months,” Cody said.

Cody read extensively from the ordinance, which he was armed with at the debate.

Debnam said he “found it odd” that McMahan has apparently forgotten the county already has an ordinance on the books that regulates mineral extraction.

“We are in a lot better shape than most other counties in Western North Carolina and a lot better shape than the rest of the state,” Debnam said, citing the current ordinance. He said he would support a resolution protecting all the county’s natural resources, but “I don’t think we need to adopt one just to address fracking.”

For the record, Elders, Cody and Debnam all said they personally don’t want to see fracking in Jackson County.

McMahan replied that if they are against it as they say they are, then why not pass a resolution affirming that?

McMahan said the two Democratic commissioners on the county board — Vicki Green and Mark Jones, who aren’t up for election this go around — have asked for a fracking resolution to be put on the agenda.

“The chairman (Debnam) has removed it from the agenda and he admitted that himself,” McMahan said.

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