The Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s plans to utilize technology to virtually hold a public meeting on March 31, came to a halt when attorney Michael Shaheen won a complaint for injunctive relief.

The meeting was set up by ODNR to allow Belmont County residents and opportunity to voice their concerns over Class II injection well permit applications, according to Sarah Wickham, chief of communications for ODNR.

The applications submitted by Omni Energy are for a proposed injection well site between U.S. 40 and State Route 331.

According to Shaheen, the proposed site is a high profile intersection. 

"Ohio University Eastern is within a couple hundred yards of there, and our joint vocational school and Belmont College are within a couple hundred yards of there," Shaheen said. "Several eating establishments, a church, and a couple of gas station are all within that footprint within a half mile."

According to Shaheen, Omni Energy’s well applications were met with significant opposition not only from his client coal tycoon Bob Murray, but also from hundreds of local residents. The opposition from residents is why ODNR agreed to hold a public meeting.

Shaheen noted that the law does not require ODNR to hold the public meeting but that it’s a good practice that has been followed by the department for decades when there’s a hot topic.

The meeting was original scheduled for March 31, but with the pandemic, ODNR rescheduled the meeting from a public forum to a virtual one to take place on April 10, which happened to be Good Friday.

The meeting, according to Wickham, was due to technology limitations limited to a maximum of 200 participants. Participants would have been required to sign up before hand.

Shaheen noted that he is the owner of Shaheen Law group, but he is not the in-house council for Murray. He also pointed out that even though technically Murray is the client, several other individuals submitted affidavits of support for their requests for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the virtual public meeting. The amount of support for the injunction was described by Shaheen as a community ground swell.

"Prior to filing the complaint, county commissioners, township trustees and I on behalf of Mr. murray all sent letters to the chief of ODNR saying we really appreciate your willingness to have this public meeting but lets do it in the right format so it can truly be a public meeting and receive the proper input. Don’t do it via this new way on a Friday afternoon," Shaheen said. "There was not even a response so, I filed the law suit to basically prohibit them from proceeding with this virtual morning."

The injunction to stop the meeting was granted by Judge John Vavra following a telephonic hearing.

Shaheen commended the judge on his decision, saying he throughly vetted all sides and issues and he was extremely prudent, logical and attentive."