The Berea City Council passed a resolution Tuesday expressing opposition to gas and oil extraction in the area by hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking.

The measure proclaims the city’s interest in preserving water resources in the area and urges property owners to carefully consider the impact of fracking on the county’s environment before leasing land to energy companies.

During a work session prior to the business meeting, council member Diane Kerby said the resolution affirms the city’s commitment to protecting local groundwater. The community’s water supply can be better ensured by discouraging fracking than by cleaning up pollution that results from fracking, she added.

The final text notes that “substantial amounts of freshwater” are employed in fracking, another reason the city officially opposes the practice, Kerby said.

Additionally, the resolution urges the state legislature to consider the long-term impacts of fracking on Kentucky’s environment, including adding a representative of the Kentucky Municipal Utilities Association to the General Assembly’s natural resources and environment committees.

The measure also calls on the Madison County Fiscal Court to review its land-use regulations and zoning policies as they may relate to fracking, because petroleum developers are inviting county residents to sign contracts to allow the practice on their property.

The resolution stands in stark contrast to an earlier draft the council considered in January. That version presented a sizable list of potential pollutants and their presumed hazards, as well as assertions that fracking could result in such natural disturbances as earthquakes.

The new version, drafted after discussions involving City Administrator Randy Stone, council members Vi Farmer, Steve Caudill, Diane Kerby and Mayor Steve Connelly, takes a narrower focus. It opposes fracking based on the objective of safeguarding water resources and preserving infrastructure such as roads, as well as maintaining property values and the city’s identity as a tourist destination.

The resolution passed 7-0. Council member Chester Powell did not vote, having left just before the business meeting when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning. The meeting was delayed for several minutes as council members and citizens waited in the basement of the Berea Police and Municipal Center until the warning expired.

In other business, the council unanimously adopted an ordinance annexing property along Blue Lick and Big Hill roads into the city. The land is owned by Berea College.

Officials said the land was annexed because it includes some of the city’s walking and bike paths near Indian Fort Theatre. With the adoption of the ordinance, the city can regulate activity on the path.

The city has proposed annexing more land from the college, including the parking lot of Indian Fort theater, a nearby house and space approaching the outdoor amphitheater. However, the college has not responded to that proposal, officials said.

During the meeting’s public comment period, restauranteur Ali Blair expressed concern about a proposal to form an economic development alliance between the city and the Berea Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s executive director, David Rowlette, recently proposed a joint city/chamber partnership in which he would lead economic development efforts on the community’s behalf.

Blair said the city should focus its efforts on boosting locally owned businesses and worker cooperatives instead of chasing national retail and restaurant chains. She also questioned whether the city should enter into a partnership with the chamber, because it has not supported the city’s goal of forging a more tolerant community.

Specifically, Blair said chamber members, including council member Chad Hembree, opposed the passage of a ‘fairness ordinance’ to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

She also suggested the chamber engaged in religious discrimination when it prohibited the sale of “items of the occult” at the fall Spoonbread Festival.

When Mayor Connelly offered Rowlette the opportunity to rebut Blair’s complaints, he politely declined. During council members’ comments, Hembree did not address Blair’s grievances.

Concerning the issue of alcohol sales in the city, officials reported obtaining approximately 900 of the 1,158 signatures needed to request a ballot measure for drink sales in the city. At a March meeting, Stone told the council’s Economic Development Committee that the city hopes to collect the required number of signatures by April 15.

If the petition is successful and voters approve alcohol sales in a September referendum, restaurants seating at least 50 people and deriving at least 70 percent of their receipts from the sale of food will be allowed to sell alcohol by the drink. Bars and package stores would not be allowed under the proposed ordinance.

Local resident Tim Taylor told the council he disapproved of the use of taxpayer funds in the petition effort. Blair, meanwhile, expressed her support for drink sales.

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