FAIRBORN — Individuals opposing the CEMEX property rezone recently got to know their neighbors, after collecting 731 valid signatures for a referendum to appear on the ballot in March 2016 to give individuals the opportunity to cast their vote for the matter.
“I personally talked to 200 residents myself, and the majority of the 200 residents were very adamant that they were upset with the way the city made the decision,” Pete Waltz of Bath Township said. “They did not like the leadership and are disappointed in their mayor and city manager … It made us feel like people want what’s right to be done, and they don’t think it’s a good idea to use the land for blasting that’s around residents.”
However, City Manager Deborah McDonnell said allowing CEMEX to use the property to support its needs is essential to the growth of the city. If the referendum passes, the current zone would be lifted, the land would be unannexed and all agreements made between the city and the company in relation to growth and development would end.
“It’s a significant step backward in development for us,” she said. “There’s a negative effect for the residents if that should occur, where the growth potential has a positive effect for our residents. The positive is that the city’s government is fiscally sound at the level its currently funding our operation — the more people that help pay that bill, the less everyone pays. For our city, it’s to our benefit to help support this company so that all of us pay less in taxes. If that doesn’t happen, all of our planned growth — new homes, housing, all of that investment — goes away.”
The initiative began after residents consulted with an attorney and went door-to-door to collect signatures. The rezone, which changed from agricultural use to mining use, passed during an Aug. 17 council meeting; the referendum required 722 signatures to be collected. More than 1,000 signatures were collected. However, some were invalid due to reasons including voting registration status, signatures not matching, being lined out, illegible or duplicated, jurisdiction or having blank lines. However, the Greene County Board of Elections said this is not uncommon. Therefore, officials recommend gathering double the amount of required signatures.
“We always knew we had the referendum we could go to,” Dawn Falleur of Bath Township said. “We hoped we wouldn’t have to … I think as far as people gathering signatures, there were more than we ever thought we would have … You can’t run a business like this without rock, and we understand that. It’s just that you don’t get in the middle of a neighborhood, you don’t go into a community and do this.”
CEMEX Director of Communications Sara Engdahl said in a statement that the company has had its eye on the referendum activity in Fairborn, and added that CEMEX is committed to being a good neighbor and will continue to encourage open communication between those living near the local plant and other citizens to address any possible concerns.
“CEMEX is proud to be a part of the Fairborn community for over 90 years and has partnered with numerous charitable organizations and schools throughout the Fairborn area,” the statement said. “We employ over 100 full time local employees with quality jobs with an annual payroll of nearly $7 million. Our overall economic impact locally is nearly $70 million annually.”
Challengers expressed concerns in relation to the nature of mining and home values, and feel that they are no longer able to enjoy their outdoor space as they did before. However, Carol Flory of Bath Township saw a silver lining in the matter: getting more politically involved than she ever believed she would be and meeting her neighbors along the way.
“It was very eye-opening to me to find that there was support there, if only because of the disappointment in the governing bodies,” Waltz said. “It’s an old fight and I think they think we will tire and grow weary and give up — and they are very wrong as they are finding out.”
McDonnell said although residents near the plant do believe so, she understands how they feel, adding that CEMEX will create barriers, including building mounds and planting trees, to alliviate the dust and noise taking place from the blasts.
“Rezoning the land to allow for mineral extraction will allow us to provide locally sourced building materials for use in infrastructure projects in the greater Ohio region,” CEMEX said in a statement. “Every citizen uses our products every day (homes, schools, roads) and by continuing our operations we will be able to provide this much needed resource.”
The city plans to develop additional housing in the future, therefore attracting more families to move to the city. McDonnell said in doing so, more individuals would be enrolling and supporting the school system, which would allow for a higher quality of education.
“From an economic development perspective: we are trying to bring businesses in here, not drive them away,” she said. “It’s just really sad because there’s no one in the City of Fairborn who initiated this, it was township residents. I’m not really convinced that the people who signed those petitions really understood what they were signing.”
Challengers said they are ready to continue to fight CEMEX’s efforts in the future.
“Every victory is temporary with CEMEX,” Waltz said. “They are also ready to come back … They’re not going to stop until they get what they want, and I think the community is a pebble in CEMEX’s shoe – [to be] dumped out and gotten rid of.”