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SKALA-WAG? CoMo City Councilman responds to anger over pro-fracking vote

Fury over fracking ensnares a progressive favorite

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/18/13 (Beat Byte) -- His unexpected vote to approve a natural gas station that will dispense fracked fuels has Third Ward Columbia City Councilman Karl Skala in an unusual predicament:  Defending his position -- and his integrity -- against an onslaught of anger from progressive constituents, his main voter base. 

Mr. Skala and three other Council members narrowly approved a contract with Clean Energy, a T. Boone Pickens company, to build and operate the gas station Sept. 3.   The 4-3 panel also okayed a fleet of natural gas-powered city vehicles. 

"Karl Skala has NO concern for his constituents nor for Columbia," said Debbie Johnson, an avowed Democrat who moved to Columbia from Michigan.   "He is just one of many on our City Council in the pocket of corporate control, and selling us out at every opportunity."

Mr. Skala's "sell out," some constituents say, involved a quid pro quo  with city manager Mike Matthes and fellow Council members who supported the contract, a charge the Councilman denies. 

The Council's approval -- and the public hearing that preceded it -- left a bad taste.   Hydrological fracturing, or fracking, releases underground natural gas with a controversial mix of toxins, sand blasting -- and indelibly scary images like flames shooting from kitchen faucets.   Many residents believe using their tax dollars to buy fracked natural gas aids and abets a poisonous process. 

Unorthodox if not unprecedented procedures before the Council vote also brought widespread condemnation.  With a wave and a smile from the Council dais to a
Clean Energy representative in the audience, Matthes took control of the public hearing away from Mayor Bob McDavid

Both men then allowed the representative to testify at length -- and out of order. 

"I watched the hearing, incredulous," Columbia resident Carol Greenspan explained.  
"The lack of democratic process was appalling.  I was shocked that details of the contract were not presented to the public by the Council, with multiple public hearings on a major issue of this sort.  A large number of literate, involved citizens were badly run over."

So badly, in fact, Columbia resident Elaine Hartley decried an "absolute disregard for due process and the rule of law exhibited by the Mayor, the city manager, and some City Council members,'' Mr. Skala included.    

The quid pro quo charge alleges Mr. Skala voted to approve the natural gas contract "in hopes his own pet project, a user-based fee system for new developments, would be favored," Columbia-area NOW vice-president Seileach Corleigh wrote on Facebook.  "Karl 'fessed up to a certain person I know."   

Rather than one-size-fits-all city service fees, Mr. Skala has long championed developers paying for infrastructure based on how much use of it their developments generate. 

Though Corleigh calls his idea "a pretty good system," she objects to mutual back scratching.  "It's wrong of Karl to support this Clean Energy contract based on whether or not the others [Council members and city manager] support his [user fee] idea," she explained.   

"Really weary of these unfounded accusations and misrepresentations," Mr. Skala urged his fracking-opposed constituents to "focus on an efficacious federal regulation regime" to control methane gas, an explosive fracking by-product. 

Calling his vote a move to diversify roughly 15% of the city's vehicle fleet away from gasoline, "believe me, there was no fix [that] was clearly in,'" Skala wrote on Facebook, referencing Ken Midkiff's editorial at this link.  "I arrived at my conclusions ...independently of any city Staff advocacy." 

Fracking is an
"abomination" Skala said he has researched for years.  "But the issue is the lesser of two fossil fuel evils, such that a diversification bridge is built away from the greater evil of coal and the legacy of Fukushima (a radioactive Pacific plume scheduled to reach the U.S. in 2014); and toward a future of 100% renewables" -- energy sources such as solar and wind. 
 
But Mr. Skala's suggestion that fracked natural gas is a bridge to a better tomorrow hasn't gone over, either. 

"Fracking is not a 'bridge' fuel," Elaine Hartley said.  "If you want to promote renewables then DO IT.  Don't spend our money on this death-dealing garbage."
 
Columbia environmental engineer Tom O'Connor put it more colorfully.  "Natural gas is a bridge to renewables like crystal meth is a bridge to sobriety."
 
 
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