The Story of Broadview Heights, Ohio
by: Tish O’Dell Posted on: March 02, 2013
Editor’s Note: Broadview Heights, OH has introduced the novel community rights to pure water, clean air, peaceful enjoyment of home, a sustainable energy future, self-government, and natural communities’ right to exist and flourish into its municipal charter. Oil and gas injection wells, which violate these legal rights, have been banned in the city. Written by Tish O’Dell, resident of Broadview Heights.
This is the story of my hometown, Broadview Heights, Ohio. It is a small, residential suburb just 11 miles south of Cleveland. We’ve got 20,000 residents and span 13 square miles, but new neighbors are moving in; 90 gas/oil wells now dot our town.
My parents moved our family to Broadview Heights when I was 3, so it’s the only home I’ve ever known. They bought a house with several acres and felt like it was a slice of heaven. The woods were a great place to explore and get lost in as a child. We picked fresh blackberries and ate them without washing. My parents had a big garden and grew all our vegetables and also planted many fruit trees. I had such fond memories that after I married, my husband and I wanted to start a family of our own in Broadview Heights.
However, in 30 years my hometown has changed drastically. Besides the obvious growth and many more residential developments, around 2006 oil/gas drilling companies started appearing. They did it slowly and under most people’s radar. They first went to churches, schools, and our city hall to get leases signed. After all, churches, schools, and cities always need more revenue. After they had drilled wells next to our playgrounds, picnic pavilions and baseball fields, they started infiltrating our quiet neighborhoods. They dangled the promise of unlimited money and free gas in front of homeowner’s. The brochures showed green and lush farms with a wellhead in the middle.
There was no mention or photos of industrial size trucks and tanks, trees getting mowed down, hazardous chemicals or waste pits filled with sludge and dirty liquid. If a resident did seem wary and asked if it was safe, the oil/gas companies landman immediately sited that the school, church, and city hall would not have allowed wells to go in on their properties if it wasn’t safe! Besides, he or she would point out, the industry is closely monitored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). So lease after lease got signed and if a skeptical resident refused to sign, the oil/gas company simply mandatory pooled that resident’s land into the drilling unit. The local papers were not reporting on the changes taking place in our neighborhoods and nothing was discussed at city meetings.
Then in 2007, they went too far. A drilling company, a greedy resident, and local officials put three wells just 75 to 100 feet from the home of a mother and her two small children. She woke up one morning to find her wooded backyard being ripped apart by bulldozers and heavy equipment. When she discovered what was happening to her home and her backyard, she became enraged. She contacted every media contact she could think of. Word started spreading throughout the community about the dirty secret that was in some people’s backyards. When drilling began on one of the three wells, some type of leak occurred. The mother and grandmother started feeling faint and lightheaded. They had the sense to grab the children and get away from the house. This mom and family began a very long and painful process that just recently ended with the sale of the home. It was finally sold for almost half of what it was worth prior to the wells going in.
This mom and family, without even realizing it, started a movement in Broadview Heights to regain control of our community. Somewhere along the line we had stopped paying attention and with the lack of attention we lost our rights as citizens of the community to decide what we wanted in our neighborhoods.
I met this mom at a city council meeting in 2010. My life has never been the same. It took me a while to grasp what had happened to my hometown and how dire the situation was. When I realized that the elected officials were part of the problem, I naively decided that I had to run for mayor of Broadview Heights to try to change the situation. After a very long eight months of raising money, walking neighborhoods, and talking with residents, the election was done and the current mayor was re-elected for another 4 years.
One of the events I held during my campaign was a screening of Josh Fox’s GASLAND at our local library. It was at this event that I met another mom, Michelle Aini, who had just found out that a well was going to be drilled 300 feet from her home. After many conversations, Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhoods (MADION) was born! We regularly attended council meetings and debates together. We traveled to Columbus and Youngstown and we spoke at rallies. Along the way we met other concerned citizens and at a Youngstown rally, we met Doug Shields and his wife from Pittsburgh. They spoke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and how communities are reclaiming their rights to self-government through the passage of Community Bills of Rights.
Nothing else seemed to be working, so after a lot of discussion we decided to pursue the idea of a Community Bill of Rights too. We organized a conference call for our mayor and City Council to speak directly with Ben Price of CELDF. We invited Doug Shields to Broadview Heights to speak directly to our City Council. We thought for sure that the logic of Doug and Ben’s arguments would be well received. Again, naïve! All the city Law Director had to say was, “you can’t stop drilling, it goes against state law” and all our elected officials backed down.
However, MADION kept gaining more supporters at each meeting and we continued to get as much media coverage as we could. With every leak and every spill came a call to every television station and every newspaper in the area. We had local TV stations and even the CBS Evening News in Broadview Heights do stories about us. The more attention we got, the more educated our residents became.
Since our local government refused to protect us in any way, we had to do it ourselves. Our City Council gave us the impression that they were going to pass a Community Bill of Rights as an ordinance, but in the 9th hour (June 2012), they voted it down. Quickly we scrambled to find out our options to get something on the November 2012 ballot for residents to vote on. After many calls to CELDF and the County Board of Elections, we discovered that we had about 30 days to gather over 1,300 valid voter signatures. We hustled every evening in 90 degree heat walking door to door. We stood at the library and at our 4-day city festival. We were asked to not petition in front of the grocery store and other retail locations because we were controversial. Since when did democracy become controversial? We were only gathering signatures on an initiative petition to place the Bill of Rights on the ballot! It was shocking to me that people found this offensive.
In 30 days, right up to the deadline, MADION delivered over 1,700 signatures to our City Clerk of Council. Over 1,500 signatures were verified and the Bill of Rights Charter Amendment was going on the ballot. The Bill of Rights was a proposed amendment to our city charter. Between August and November the work continued. We designed information fliers, solicited donations to help with printing and distributing and we ran ads supporting the Bill of Rights in our local newspaper. All the hard work and sweat paid off. On November 6, 2012, the residents and voters of Broadview Heights decided by a 3-1 margin (67% in favor) to pass the Community Bill of Rights and add it to our city charter. The Bill of Rights states that we have the right to pure water, clean air, peaceful enjoyment of home, a sustainable energy future, and self-government, that natural communities have the right to exist and flourish within the City of Broadview Heights, and that the rights within the Bill of Rights are self-executing. It also bans injection wells and the spreading of drilling waste on our city streets as violations of these rights.
And now, we wait. We have heard rumors that landmen are still going door to door. Our mayor has stated that the city will be sued. We don’t know what the future holds for Broadview Heights, but we do know that we fought for our rights over corporate domination and control and that we loudly and clearly stated that we don’t want any more drilling here! I have never been so proud of my neighbors and my hometown!
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