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Judge sets path for voters to decide renewable energy ordinance

Advocates will move forward with efforts to get ordinance on 2016 ballot

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Attorney Gregory Chaimov listens as Ann Kneeland (middle) presents oral arguments in favor of the Columbia County Clerk's approval of a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance. Last week, a judge ruled in one of two lawsuits regarding the proposed initiative.The second of two legal challenges filed in opposition to a proposed “community Bill of Rights” relating to energy production and consumption in Columbia County was resolved Friday, Aug. 14.

Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove handed down small revisions to language in a ballot title for a community bill of rights that is part of an effort to curb the transport and production of non-renewable energy in the county.

Proponents of the community bill of rights and the corresponding Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance hope to ask voters to consider a measure to regulate corporations’ ability to transport and refine fossil fuels within county limits, favoring a plan for more renewable energy sources.

In February, two complaints were filed in Columbia County Circuit Court in an effort to block the initiative.

One challenged Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison’s approval of ballot title language, the other challenged the county clerk’s approval of the measure as being fit for signature gathering from the public.

Atchison’s office is responsible for certifying the title of ballot measures before they get circulated for signatures within the public and approved to be placed on an election ballot.

Proponents of the measure have established a group called Columbia County Sustainable Action for Green Energy. Members Nancy Ward and Brady Preheim are a couple of the chief advocates in getting the ordinance and bill of rights on the ballot.

“The overarching impetus is to show people that they have no rights,” Ward said Friday, Aug. 14. “That more power lies with corporations than the hands of the people.”

Friday’s action from the judge prompted a revision of the ballot title from the District Attorney’s Office. That allows the proponents of the measure to submit paperwork necessary to start gathering signatures in support of getting the measure on a ballot, Ann Kneeland, an attorney representing CC SAGE, explained.

“We are pleased with Judge Grove’s decision,” Kneeland stated. “The Chief Petitioners are eager to collect voters’ signatures and begin the urgently-needed conversation about who decides what happens in Columbia County: the people who live in the County or multinational corporations?”

Atchison was unavailable for comment.

Ward and Preheim said once they are approved to begin collecting signatures, they must get at least 1,600 valid signatures from registered Columbia County voters to get the initiative on a 2016 election ballot.

Preheim said the effort is an attempt to ask residents to consider the future of their resources and the environmental consequences of relying on fossil fuels.

“We will run out of oil,” Preheim said Friday, following the judge’s decision. “If we don’t start planning now, we won’t have any alternatives.”

If the measure makes it to a ballot, it could still face legal challenges if approved by voters.