The Lee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to extend the county’s moratorium on oil and gas development and mining by 24 months.
The temporary ban, which started as a two-year moratorium in December 2015, will now extend to Dec. 7, 2019. The board voted 6-0 in favor, with Commissioner Kevin Dodson absent.
The vote came after nine people spoke in favor of extension at the board’s Oct. 16 meeting and five spoke in favor Monday night. The board had never given any indication they would be opposed to the extension, which is designed to allow more time for research on the effect of mining — commonly associated with the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — in the area and to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for the practice within county limits.
The ordinance states that it would be “unlawful and a violation of this ordinance for any person (in Lee County)…to engage in oil and gas development activities or mining activities that require a County permit.”
The five people who spoke during public comments Monday each encouraged the board to enact the extension. Two of the speakers came from Chatham County — the board of commissioners there passed a one-year extension on its moratorium this summer. Chatham resident Martha Girolami said Lee should follow Chatham’s stead and give researchers more time to determine the impact of the practice on the local environment.
“The landscape, the viewscape is all tanks and pipelines and land disturbance, and the air quality is horrible,” Girolami said. “There are just so many missing pieces. There are areas of fracking we don’t understand.”
EnvironmentaLEE member Debbie Hall said it was time for people in government to put “people before profits” when it came to oil and gas mining.
“I think that’s so important, and that’s especially important to those of us that live on split estates and won’t have any say-so if fracking comes to Lee County,” Hall said. “Today, you all are making a difference for me, you’re making a difference for my neighbors, to help get answers about fracking. You’re giving us time.”
The commissioners had no discussion on the item when it came time for a vote.
The moratorium is likely to come under state-level scrutiny in coming months, should the N.C. Oil & Gas Commission meet. The commission — which includes former Lee County commissioner and current Lee County GOP Chair Jim Womack and former Sanford City Council member and state representative Mike Stone — is slated to hear complaints from companies that desire to drill in the Lee and Chatham County areas. Two attempts have been made to meet, but issues with the state Department of Environmental Quality and a failure to get a quorum have prevented meetings.
The board also took a step forward Monday towards a resolution to the question of a concealed carry on county property ordinance. Commissioner Robert Reives asked County Manager John Crumpton to conduct a formal survey of county staff to gauge their comfort level with a change to allow concealed weapons carried by those with a permit.
“I would say to the board and all its members, that we are in the position of employers, and we have a duty and responsibility to look after the staff of Lee County,” Reives said. “In this regard, I think that it’s time that we allow staff to have a say as well.”
He added that he wanted a final decision “in 2017 and try to get some other things done in 2018.” The board unanimously agreed to have a discussion on the issue in December and study results of the survey that will be conducted.
The commissioners also approved a one-time $1,500 grant to the S3 Housing Connect homelessness task force for an emergency hotel fund. The money would be administered by the Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action nonprofit and be given towards one-to-two night hotel stays for homeless people in emergency situations.
The board debated whether or not this would be a one-time fund and questioned whether or not it would actually solve anything. Marshall Downey, City of Sanford’s planning director, said it would be a “bridge” until the “white flag” shelter at Bread of Life Ministries opened at the beginning of December.
“It’s a long-term problem, and I don’t guess we’re going to try to solve that tonight,” said Commissioner Larry “Doc” Oldham. “But if this $1,500 will help them tonight, I’ll make the motion. And I’m hoping it’s a one-time thing.”
Reach Staff Writer Zachary Horner at 919-718-1217 and on Twitter at @Zachary_Horner.