Highland Heights Council Rejects Lease for Gas Wells in Park
City will heed wishes of residents and continue to fight lawsuit.
Highland Heights residents clearly said they oppose gas wells in the city park and City Council members weren't about to go against their wishes.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday against a proposed lease with Bass Energy for two gas wells in the city park.
"We are stewards of the public will. We have clearly heard you just as we did back in 2008," Council President Cathy Murphy said, referring to a charter amendment approved by 73 percent of voters that prohibits park land from being sold or leased without voter approval.
Murphy noted that city officials and Bass Energy have been in negotiations for four years and there were numerous attempts to resolve a lawsuit short of allowing wells to be drilled. The lease rejected Tuesday was an attempt to settle a $7 million breach of contract lawsuit filed by Bass Energy after Mayor Scott Coleman signed an initial lease in 2007. Council rescinded that lease in 2008, which prompted the lawsuit.
Coleman told the overflow crowd in the council chambers that they have been heard and the city will fight the lawsuit.
"The overwhelming majority of people who expressed their opinions certainly do not want gas wells in the park," he said. "We have heard you and we do not support settling the lawsuit in this way and we will not allow gas wells in our park."
Council members Chuck Brunello and Lisa Marie Stickan also commented about the number of residents who told them they did not want wells in the park.
"We know we speak for you and we should take your opinions into consideration when we make decisions," Stickan said.
The vote was preceded by more than an hour of comments from residents, all of whom spoke against the proposed lease. Among them were Amy Feran, spokesperson for the citizens group Love Our Green Space, which was responsible for the petition drive that led to the 2008 charter amendment.
Feran told city officials that residents were willing to forgive and would stand by them if they fought the lawsuit.
"Despite all of the errors and mistakes that have been made, we will stand by you and support you – even pony up a little bit of extra money if we have to – as long as you redeem yourselves by doing the right thing, as long as you redeem yourselves by abandoning your plan to drill frac gas wells in the park," she said.