Why Ritchie County said NO to the Justice Road Bond

The road bond vote is over, and it passed. In Ritchie County, I was a vocal opponent for a few reasons, but chiefly because the taxes raised for the bond are so regressive. And Ritchie County said NO to the bond. In fact Ritchie was the only county to have rejected it. And while it wasn’t a landslide against, it was decisively rejected here.

I am both disappointed and relieved at the same time. I think honestly that would have been my reaction no matter how it turned out. Neither choice was good, as I explained in my earlier post about the Justice road bond.

However, I was asked online today why I thought Ritchie County voted differently, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with readers here. This is just my sense, from an on-the-ground perspective, mind you.

Naturally, there are people here in Ritchie County, like everywhere else, who will vote against any bond reflexively, or who voted against it because they distrust Justice, etc. But you have people like that everywhere, and I don’t really think Ritchie is different in that way. You might have a look at my poll asking why folks voted against the bond. This is not a scientific poll, either… it’s more just a poll of readers. Plus, those readers aren’t in Ritchie County alone, to be clear. Still, it may give you a general idea of why the NO voters voted the way they did. The results may surprise you a bit.

Now to my own take on why Ritchie County voted differently…

In general, in Ritchie County, there’s a lot more anger than in other places about the fracking invasions—anger from both left- and right- leaning voters here— and I think that translated to anger about having taxes increased for something we don’t even see the benefit of.

That doesn’t mean people were against it just because it didn’t help Ritchie County specifically. A lot of folks here have to commute a good distance to work, though, so we feel any increase in the gas tax hard. So while we know they raised taxes this spring to pay for the bond, we’re still driving on crap roads and have less money to deal with vehicle wear and tear… and we knew here that whether the bond passed or not, we’d still be on crap roads.

In other words, we really see where the bond falls short. And Ritchie isn’t the only county that sees no funds from the bond. The vast majority of rural counties will get no fixes, see no jobs, have no improvement in infrastructure. But here in Ritchie, perhaps we’re just more painfully aware of it. 

Meanwhile Justice is saying “It won’t raise your taxes!” and… yeah, that’s true technically just because they’ve already been raised to pay for the bond. But that sort of misdirection from him just makes people roll their eyes. Ritchie County was also among the counties where Justice lost in 2016 (he lost here badly). So the arguments he and other proponents made FOR the bond were not the arguments that many here were buying.

Here’s why: When you have gravel roads that were in fine condition for 20 or 30 years…


… get destroyed in a few months by fracking trucks, it’s pretty clear whom to blame.

Most Ritchie Countians won’t be talking about that in the way I do: I talk about the costs of fracking being socialized on local populations, refer to marginal costs of production, inefficient markets, and have graphs showing how to calculate negative externalities, yadda yadda. That stuff is for mucky-mucks who are telling us we’re benefiting from all this, without actually looking to see if we are—or if instead we’re basically being stolen from. Instead people here in Ritchie are feeling those socialized costs DIRECTLY in a very real way.

So there’s a pretty clear sense here that fracking is ruining the county, and there’s honestly a FU vibe about it in some places.

If the DEP doesn’t do something about it, I worry that someone is going to be hurt, and not just from the damage done to our water, property values, and the diesel in the air. It’s tough to keep people calm. A lot of people are at the breaking point. They haven’t been able to articulate why what is happening is so wrong, and they’re glad I’m hollering about it in a way they hope folks in Charleston will be able to process. (Good luck with that, though, right?)

Ritchie is so very rural with so few people. I think it may be possibly the least densely populated WV county in the Marcellus. Here, among the people whose homes have been ruined are teachers who taught in the area for decades, public servants who know everyone, family farms with ties to cousins across the county, etc etc. Tell me how seeing your beloved 3rd grade teacher, or your grandpa, weeping about what’s happening to his acreage would hit you.

There is a sense that frackers have tricked seniors into signing terrible contracts, or have lied about what the contracts contain. I can’t speak to that; you might have to talk to some local attorneys. But we do know for that that they are trying to get away with not paying mineral owners what they’re owed, and they basically show a complete disregard for the people who live here. Big, dishonest corporations with slews of out-of-state workers are driving out small companies that employ local people and operate honestly. You think I’m being hyperbolic with the “We deserve good neighbors, not corporate invaders” stuff? I assure you I’m not.

And the WV DEP knows it, too.

‘“You have had a huge invasion of industrial activity.” Pointing out the fracking industry entered the area with no planning and roads and infrastructure that are not suitable for the heavy equipment used in the process, [former DEP Secretary Huffman] added, “You’re overwhelmed.”’

Uh, yeah. But Huffman/Tomblin didn’t do anything about it, and neither is Caperton/Justice doing anything about it. So they acknowledge the problem while at the same time shrugging it off. Essentially it’s “Sorry you’re losing your farm, but we don’t work for you.”

I hear anecdotal stories from folks every time I’m anywhere to meet people: Frackers have dumped into local ponds, stolen water from creeks, refused to fix leaky gathering pipes… and the DEP still refuses to issue citations while Justice tells them to “stop saying no to industry.’ And I’ve heard several times that we have oil police sometimes on the backroads stopping cars and asking people where they’re going. (!) That’s hard to believe in some senses… and very easy to believe in others. True or not, though, I promise you some people out here do believe it.

And if you travel near fracking operations, chances are you’ve been run off the road at least once (I have been, a couple times.)

So that’s my sense of why Ritchie voted differently.

All that being said, they could have won some people here for the bond if there had just been some minimal amount of money going to some of the back roads.

All they would have had to do is put some small amount of money back into some of these rural counties like ours. If they did that, even though it would still be a regressive tax being paid for by the wrong group of people, I think enough people here would have voted for it so that it would pass, and I also think it would have passed more overwhelmingly elsewhere.

But the project list showing nothing for us, nothing for most of rural WV, was just a kick to the shins again.

In Ritchie County we’re paying so very much, with nothing, NOTHING back.  People in many rural counties will find—now that the bond has passed and they’re expecting to see roads improve—little but more deterioration.

I think in Ritchie we just have a better awareness of this because we’re so much closer to the damage and the loss. We know whom to blame, and we know our government is determined to take money from Big Energy, and respond by brushing our pleas for help and protection under the rug.

So in those areas that will be seeing projects and improvements, keep this in mind: those costs of extraction are being socialized locally; the burden falls hardest on counties like mine. Our roads get worse, we pay, yours get better. If you’re a progressive, that should concern you… so I implore you, no matter how you voted on the bond issue, please join with your rural neighbors and help end that cycle, because that is exactly what is breaking this state.

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