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Group Wants Fracking Ban on Local Ballot

(CN) - The city of Loveland, Colo., refused to send an anti-fracking measure to voters despite approving the petition that got it on the ballot, environmental activists claim in county court.

Nonprofit Protect Our Loveland Inc. sued the city of Loveland and its city council in Larimer County Court after they failed to put the "Loveland Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act" on the ballot for the Nov. 5 elections.

The measure would place a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Loveland, the second largest city in Larimer County behind Fort Collins.

Protect Our Loveland gathered the approximately 2,500 signatures it needed to get the ordinance on the ballot this summer, and the city clerk approved the petition in August despite a resident's protest, according to the complaint. But the city council allegedly decided against placing the proposed ban on the ballot until an appeal of the clerk's sufficiency ruling could be decided in court.

Larimer County court records show that Loveland resident Larry Sarner, who had protested the clerk's findings initially, filed a lawsuit Sept. 3. In that action Sarner challenged the validity of the anti-fracking petition, claiming an inaccurate registered voter count.

Though a city attorney allegedly advised the city council that it could defer to the district court's decision, Protect Our Loveland says that the failure to put the measure on the ballot breaks civil procedure rules.

"On July 8, 2013 Protect Our Loveland filed a petition pursuant to Colorado law seeking to submit to voters of Loveland a proposed ordinance entitled the 'Loveland Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act,'" the complaint states. "The ordinance, if enacted, would place a two-year moratorium on the process of hydraulic fracturing, as well as the storage and disposal of waste products from hydraulic fracturing, in the Loveland city limits. In so doing, Protect Our Loveland followed in the footpath of many Front Range communities who are seeking to pass local measures to address the communities' concerns of health and safety risks, diminished property values, and environmental degradation posed by hydraulic fracturing. The Loveland city clerk determined the petition proposing the ordinance was sufficient both upon initial review and after a hearing conducted on a protest to the petition. However, the city council has unlawfully refused to take action on the petition, in violation of its duty under the statute."

The law states that once a petition is approved, the city council can either adopt the proposed ordinance outright or hold an election "not less than 60 days and not more than 150 days after the final determination of petition sufficiency," Protect Our Loveland claims. Whatever the outcome of Sarner's lawsuit, the city council's failure to hold an election within that timeframe is illegal, it says.

"The Aug. 27 determination by the city clerk constituted a 'final determination of petition sufficiency' as defined by law, thus triggering this duty," the complaint states. "The statute does not provide for a stay of the local legislative body's required action pending appeal by a protester.

"By postponing indefinitely the publication and submission to the voters of the proposed ordinance, the city council violated its duty under the statute."

The court "should grant injunctive relief compelling the city council to immediately publish the proposed ordinance, set a ballot title, and submit the proposed ordinance to the electors of Loveland at the Nov. 5, 2013, regular election, or as a special election held on that same day," Love Our Loveland says. It asks that any special election be held before Jan. 24, 2014.

The nonprofit is represented by Michael Harris from the University of Denver and James Leftwich of MindDrive Legal Services.

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