City will demolish donated house

A house on property being donated to the city of Marietta will be demolished instead of being renovated by Habitat for Humanity, according to the chairman of city council’s lands, buildings and parks committee Monday afternoon.

“Habitat was not interested in doing a rehab, so we’re going to knock the house down,” Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, said Monday.

A Wells Fargo Bank in Iowa had offered last fall to donate the foreclosed home and property at 412 Phillips St. to the city, and later added $20,000 to the offer for demolition or rehabilitation of the property. But some city council members suggested the 100-year-old home could be renovated into family housing by Habitat for Humanity.

Last week Noland did a walk-through of the Phillips Street home with fellow Councilmen Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, and Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, as well as Washington County Habitat for Humanity director Dennis Thomas.

He said Thomas was concerned that Habitat normally builds new homes for clients, and there could be a conflict if one client was offered a renovated home instead of a new one.

Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said the house will be razed, after which the city could sell the lot to any interested party.

A demolition date has not been determined.

In other business Monday, committee members continued to discuss an oil and gas company’s proposal to lease at least 35 acres of city property to be included in a block of surrounding acreage that would be used for a horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operation.

Representatives of MNW Energy, LLC, a broker for Tulsa, Okla.-based Protege Energy III, approached council members earlier this month with an offer to lease 13 city-owned acres in the Goose Run Road area off Ohio 26 in Marietta Township, and another 22 acres near the Ohio River behind the Walmart and Lowe’s complexes on Pike Street.

The property, to be included in a 6,000-acre block of surrounding land would be leased for $4,750 an acre, plus a 17.5 percent royalty based on any product Protege would retrieve from the well,

But Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said Monday he had read a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch that alleged the state is moving too fast in allowing fracking operations in Ohio.

“The article says the state has put fracking on a fast track, and is not properly addressing the environmental issues,” he said.

Vukovic said although the city could realize some income from the lease, he was concerned that an accident could occur during the drilling process that would contaminate the property.

“If that happened, how would be address it?” he asked.

Vukovic recommended taking the issue of leasing the property to the voters in a ballot referendum.

“I don’t believe the city can do a ballot initiative that bans fracking in the city of Marietta because you do not have that jurisdiction,” said city law director Paul Bertram III.

He noted the state regulates oil and gas drilling activity through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, including within municipal limits.

Vukovic said giving ODNR the right to regulate drilling within city limits is a violation of the city’s right to home rule. He said the city of Athens is enacting an ordinance to prohibit fracking there and suggested Marietta join with Athens and other cities in confronting the state on the home rule issue.

“You may be able to pass an ordinance here, but it would be to no effect as the state of Ohio has given the Ohio DNR jurisdiction over oil and gas drilling,” Bertram said. “And that means home rule does not apply.”

Marilyn Ortt with Friends of the Lower Muskingum said she would be very concerned about any underground horizontal drilling activity under the property along the Ohio River behind the Lowe’s and Walmart complexes.

“We want to take good care of the Ohio River,” she said.

Ortt noted the city of Cincinnati was able to develop legislation essentially banning oil and gas drilling in or under the city limits by drafting language into the bill that does not contain the words “oil” or “gas” which puts the regulation under Ohio DNR.

The committee members asked Ortt to provide them with a copy of that legislation.

Kalter said he did not know how citizens feel about the potential leasing of city property for fracking purposes.

Noland said he would like to schedule a public hearing on the matter at Washington State Community College in mid-February, but the date and time of that hearing would have to be confirmed with the college first.