Carroll County's Time Has Come?

This op-ed column by Paul Feezel of Carroll Concerned Citizens appeared in the October issue of the Carroll County Energy News:

In a press quote last year talking about the shale gas boom, an elected official shared his view that Carroll County’s time had come and that it was finally getting the economic opportunities it deserved.   I have been thinking about that comment since then and I am wondering if the “times” we will be living in will be viewed positively or negatively by future generations.

About 12 years ago when my wife and I decided to make Carroll County the place we would retire, not only did we start our new journey on our 80 acres, but we also sought ways to connect with others through community service.  I was asked to serve on the newly created Carroll County Comprehensive Planning Committee that was charged with developing long-term guidelines for all aspects of growth in Carroll County.

One of the first documents the Planning Committee reviewed was a survey of County residents.  The survey’s goal was to provide insight on what aspects of life in the County residents thought were critical to their long-term happiness.  It was interesting to me that most of the top responses were associated with being a friendly, safe, small town with rural character.  On maintaining a strong agricultural presence and enjoying of outdoor activities.  Interestingly, even in the late 1990’s residents were already concerned about the direction the County’s development was heading and that it was losing many of those rural characteristics.

Fast forward 10+ years and Carroll County is literally the center of Ohio’s (and currently the Midwest’s) shale gas boom.  We have as many well permits as all other Ohio counties combined.  The County Auditor reports that there are nearly 90 new millionaires in the past year and the head of the local Chamber of Commerce has become the featured speaker at shale gas promotion events statewide.

So, are the early phases of the boom providing an economic boost locally?  I’m guessing so.  Landowners are spending their signing bonuses with car and tractor dealers, home repair contractors and the like.  Underutilized Route 43 (and other) commercial properties are being leased—heck, just about all of Route 43 properties are for lease or for sale.  Luckily, that is exactly where the Planning Committee targeted for development…even though it has some of the better farming soils in the County.   Gas stations, restaurants, bars, hotels, and hardware stores are full of out-of-state trucks and workers.  If you have gravel or water for sale—you can sell all you have.  If you have a tandem axle dump truck, you can haul 7 days a week.  Many local businesses like Snode’s Restored County Barn profess “Drill Baby Drill.”

Individual landowner decisions to lease are private ones and with signing bonuses and royalty numbers being paid during these tough economic times, they can literally be the difference between keeping the family farm or not.  Unfortunately, as everyone tries to get “what they deserve” we are hearing of squabbles between some landowners.  Whether it is over differences in bonus and royalty amounts, or leasing terms, or unit sizes—neighbors that have been there for each other in the past are now less inclined to do so in the future.  As the boom reaches full-speed in the next few years, I wonder, as a Community, will we feel better off?

Last year, Carroll Concerned Citizens hosted a meeting with the County’s Ministerial Association to begin the dialogue about the changes that may befall our community.  Topics such as a Church’s role in providing stewardship for the earth and its resources needed to sustain life, engaging with new temporary or permanent workers, and helping to resolve parishioner or community disputes were discussed.  Since then, our Community has experienced some of the less-attractive sides of the shale gas boom.  Annoyances like increased traffic and noise are just that: annoyances.  Other economic impacts are starting to appear, such as price increases in construction materials, labor rates, and rental costs – which impact housing options for those less economically advantaged in the County.  Changes to the landscape from drilling pads and pipelines are decreasing farmland and woodlots, and eventually may impact some of our best tourism locations.

If we look to North and South Dakota, which are a few years ahead of us in the “boom cycle,” Community impacts appear even less attractive.   “Big city” problems with “man camps,” adult entertainment establishments, internet gambling, increased drug abuse, prostitution and crime have already hit rural communities just like ours.

Both the annoyances and the less savory sides of being a boom town come to the County with infrastructure and agency requirements, as well as, real costs that are yet to be offset with increased revenue.  Carroll County is seeing a small increase in sales tax revenue and our Auditor is working hard to assess an ad valorem tax on oil and gas revenues that will help, but so far, the County has to absorb any increased costs.

So, has Carroll County’s time come?  I guess that depends on why you chose to live here.  Because we had the greatest economic potential?  Probably not.  I suspect you are like the 85% of your fellow residents, including my wife and I, who said that they live here because:

Carroll County is an attractive, safe place to live, work and raise a family.  Because it preserves a “hometown” atmosphere enjoyed by its residents as well as visitors.  That the County protects agricultural land, forests, open spaces, streams, and its ground water supply.  Its citizens enjoy many types of suitable housing, quality healthcare and superior education.  And we develop and maintain recreational facilities to be enjoyed by all residents and visitors.

These tenants were actually components of the County’s Vision Statement adopted in 2002.  The question now will be whether they can be maintained while also being a shale gas boom town.

Paul Feezel has been involved in protecting the rights of private landholders and Ohio’s public lands for nearly 25 years. 
Mr. Feezel is the Chair of the Ohio Sierra Club’s Portage Trail Group which covers a 10 county area where the majority of new horizontal wells are being drilled and is a member of the Ohio Sierra Club’s Horizontal Gas Well Subcommittee. 
In 2010, Paul founded Carroll Concerned Citizens, a local landowner rights group focused on water protections in rural Carroll and surrounding counties where 95% percent of residents rely on private wells for their potable and agricultural needs. Carroll County is at the center of the shale gas boom and is the most horizontally drilled county in Ohio. 
Carroll County is also an example of the complexity of rapid shale gas development where underground coal mining is or has occurred. Rosebud Mining Company currently has an ODNR permit request for a room-and-pillar mine that will eventually be 30,000 acres in the same areas where new gas wells are or will be drilled. 
In addition to these organizations, Mr. Feezel also sits on the Mayor of Akron’s Green Ribbon Panel, the Keep Akron Beautiful Board, the committee for the Summit of Sustainability green business award for Summit County, and was the Natural Resources Chair of the Carroll County Comprehensive Planning Committee. 
Paul holds a BS in Mathematical Sciences from The Ohio State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace College. He is an independent management consultant focused on the information technology field. Paul and his wife Diana live on an 80 acre organic demonstration farm in Carroll County.

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