Our View: Whose land is it anyway?
After public pressure and Congressional inquiries last spring, the Bureau of Land Management agreed to postpone the date for leasing parcels of land in the Talladega National Forest for mining activities. Hydraulic fracturing — fracking — was raised as a possibility in areas deemed especially inappropriate by environmental groups and a number of area residents.

Fracking is a controversial mining process in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemical agents are pumped into the ground under pressure to allow the extraction of petroleum and/or natural gas. In our part of the country, expectations are that natural gas might be present.

In Calhoun County, some of the parcels were in close proximity to a major watershed for the area. Fears of contamination of the water supply was a major concern.

Others felt some of the parcels were uncomfortably close to popular recreation areas in the National Forest.

In public meetings organized by those with environmental concerns, criticisms of the politics of fracking were aired and the possible consequences of fracking were described.

Complaints to the office of Congressman Mike Rogers resulted in a delay of the lease sale for the parcels in Talladega National Forest. The delay was a rare occurrence for the BLM, and lease sales for other areas went ahead as planned. An informational public meeting to be held by the BLM and the Forest Service was promised, but it wasn’t until this week that the date, time and place were announced.

It’s set for Thursday, April 25, 3-6 p.m. at Gateway Park Lodge in Montgomery.

The environmental groups held their public meetings in the areas where the fracking might take place, in the evening hours after most people were off work. Their hope was to have as many people as possible attend, express their opinions, and learn from others.

That doesn’t seem to be one of the goals for the BLM meeting.

Representatives from the BLM, the Forest Service and state agencies are supposed to be on hand to provide information and answer questions. That’s a positive step.

The facts that the lease sale was delayed, and that a public meeting was scheduled at all show that someone is listening.

This newspaper has not taken a position on fracking. We are aware that new sources of natural gas have resulted from the process. That has helped our nation in pursuit of the goal of energy independence. It has also helped keep downward pressure on the cost of energy, and has had a positive effect on air pollution because natural gas burns cleaner than coal. But we have also listened to the fears raised by concerned residents. In our opinion, those concerns have not been adequately addressed.

But having the meeting 11 months after the initial protests leads us to think the government simply wanted the issue to go away. The time and place for the meeting appears to be planned in the hope that people will stay away.

The government needs to remember that federal lands belong to the people — not just to the politicians and agencies that manage them.

The people have a right to know how their land is used, and to express their opinions about how it is used.

The people deserve better.

© 2013