What’s the cost of your well-being?

There’s been a lot of crappy news out of my hometown in the last couple weeks, and it’s not about the seemingly dozens of my parents’ generation dying off, but it may be even worse for future generations. I’ve written about this before, and it still bugs me, at least weekly. In light of recent news, it bugs me even more.

You’ve all heard the term “fracking.” Depending on which side of the fence you are on, you either see it as an economic boon or an environmental nightmare, but like everything, there is more gray than black and white.

My home county is very poor. You can buy a decent home in my hometown for around $30k. A NICE home in a quiet neighborhood for just under $100k. I am not even joking. A lot of fixer-uppers are in the $20-30k range. And, really, it’s such a small town, there’s not anywhere that’s a horrible neighborhood.

My hometown has about 4,000 people. The county maybe has 50,000.  It’s hilly, and downright beautiful, with lots of old, old homes and family farms that go back for generations.

You’re getting the picture.

When the “energy” companies came in and offered ridiculous amounts of money to be able to drill, a lot of the poverty-stricken farmers, miners, steel-workers, and truck-drivers jumped on the chance, despite the news stories out of other parts of the country about safety concerns, and long-term issues with drinking water. These same folks, living in run-down, unloved homes, have now built mcMansions for themselves. I am not even kidding. Built just a short ways from their ramshackle cabins are huge, gleaming white mcMansions – spending their new found funds.

When the energy companies (“frackers”) came to town, there were hearings, there were meetings, and there were protests, but ultimately, the town decided to allow drilling under the city for $6M, which also got them access to the town’s water supply to use in their operations. The town, which has something like 7 reservoirs, already put a line in to assist a neighboring community about 10 years ago. And, now, the lakes are drying up.

That’s not even mentioning the fact that they’re drilling right next to at least one of the reservoirs. Couple that with the latest news from a county southwest of there, which had a major spill while drilling, sending hundreds of barrels of toxic waste into a nearby stream. We’re talking RIGHT NEXT TO the town water supply, now.

This picture is bleak, but, you know, it’s not horrible. Maybe that won’t happen, here, right?

Ok, let me throw this one at you. Earthquakes. USGS says there’s been an increase in earthquakes in fracking areas. You’re talking about drilling A MILE OR MORE DEEP. We’ve already seen it in Ohio.

Growing up with a dad who had a background in chemistry, water treatment, and geology, and who worked for both the EPA and AEP (another polluter), I was around this kind of talk for decades. Mine runoff. Subsidence. Tainted drinking water. Underground aquifers.

What happens when you crack open the ground, deep beneath the water table? You can guess.

Now, between the townspeople, the county commissioners, and the “Port Authority,” there is a battle for control of an industrial park. The state has already given preliminary go-ahead for a company to dump waste from the drilling operations at the industrial park side, and the city and the county seem pissed about it. The permission was vague. The industrial park wasn’t supposed to be for waste. Who trusts the greedy corporations anymore? And now the county and port authority are running scared, and refusing to talk to the townspeople, whose watershed the dumping grounds are in. Leaving meetings when faced with proof of their lies, about who they talked to and when.

Are you starting to see the issues here?

My hometown was already in bad health when this started. I can’t even count the number of friends and neighbors +-5years of my age who have had cancer. I’m not exaggerating. Every time I think I’ve named all of them, another friend brings up more. I’m 40. One of my closest friends died at 34. Another died at 42.  We’re talking around 10% of every person my age. And now you’re adding all this to it?

The city I love is drowning. Sure, the economy is better, for now, but what will be left in another 10 years? With all the increased traffic (there are something like 20 fracking sites nearby), families are getting run off the road by truck-drivers unfamiliar with the territory, and those who just don’t care. Gone are the days of leisurely play in the front-yards, and leisurely Sunday drives around the countryside.

So, $6 Million. How are we going to fix this mess? Invested, that might yield 4%. $240,000/year. Is that enough to address drinking-water concerns, infrastructure concerns, and energy concerns for a town of 4,000 and the surrounding hills? Who will stick up for our town for the next generation?

I called my dad last weekend, after talking to my friend Iz, who still lives in the area. My dad is an educated man, having lived both in town and in the surrounding countryside, and understands politics more than most. He is rational, but stern. He had said, probably a couple years ago, he was going to run for city council. I called him to ask if he would consider it, again. He said no, and honestly, it was for the best reasons for him and my mom. My dad is not one to pull punches. He is not diplomatic. He is what I am becoming. Difference: he knows when to shut up.

“Do you really think your mother could show her face at church on Sunday, if I was in office? This whole town would turn against us. Or at least half of it would.”

‘But, Dad, who’s going to stand up for this town?’

“Not me, kid. We’re old. We can’t.”

My heart is broken when it comes to what my hometown is becoming. My dreams of a revitalized central village, as it was pitched to us all more than 25 years ago, will never be realized. The beauty of the amazing buildings will be gone, and if worst comes to worst, there won’t be any drinking-water and the whole town will dry up.

It’s difficult to dream about the amazing downtown when everything points toward ghost-town. It doesn’t stop the enviro-architect in me planning a future in my dreams, where the city becomes a proving-ground for new technologies and systems focused on clean water and clean, renewable energy. A city that the residents can be proud of, again.

Concepts that seem far-fetched, that major cities dream of. Geothermal heating and cooling. Wind farms and small-scale localized wind turbines. Solar energy and water heating. Graywater recycling. Moisture extraction. Community and collaborative gardening/farming. Sustainability on a grander scale. What if folks decided “we’re in this for the long term” instead of “we’re in this for a quick buck.” How much would it take?

How much? How many like-minded folks have to stand up?

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