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Apparently taking a page from the North Carolina General Assembly’s playbook when it comes to limiting free speech, Jim Womack is seeking a protest perimeter at an upcoming public hearing on fracking.

Womack, a Lee County commissioner and chairman of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission, has asked CCCC officials via email to “designate all areas within 300 feet of the main hall as noise-free areas” during the public hearing, which is set for Aug. 22 at CCCC’s civic center.

“I am told you have the authority to direct the outside crowd to the location(s) from which they are allowed to conduct their free speech rights,” Womack wrote in the email on July 4 to CCCC officials. “If so, I would request that you designate all areas within 300 feet of the main hall as noise-free areas, during the period from 5-9PM that night, and that if a group wishes to make noise, that they be directed to an area that is safely outside the range at which their noise might interfere with the public comments inside. If possible, it would be even more preferable for noisemakers to be directed across Kelly Drive to the parking lot adjacent to the ATM machine.”

Womack’s request comes after a small group of drum-playing protesters stood outside another recent public hearing on fracking regulations regarding storm water. That meeting was held July 1.

“The ‘drummers’ out front played incessantly through most of the EMC public hearing. I personally could not hear most of the other speakers’ comments and I received complaints from more than a dozen other attendees after the session that they had the same problem hearing the comments,” Womack wrote in the same email. “The drums and whistles were simply too intrusive and intermittently over-powered the sound system inside the facility.”

Despite Womack’s claim, multiple parties present at the public hearing said that while the drumming was audible inside the civic center at the July 1 meeting, the sounds did not hamper their ability to hear the presentation or the speakers making public comments. The only reference in the Sanford Herald’s report on the meeting to noise from the group calls the sounds “muffled.”

CCCC officials seemed inclined to oblige Womack’s request, to a degree anyway. Followup emails indicate the college’s security team has contacted Sanford police “for their assistance in noise ordinances and how they measure and enforce it.” But the emails also note that Womack’s suggestion of moving protestors near the campus ATM machine is a non-starter, since potential noise could then interfere with evening classes, and also that the college would be unable to stop protestors from inhabiting Department of Transportation right-of-ways on the civic center property.

In any event, the concerns may be moot. Womack wrote that he “will be providing my own high powered sound system for the event” and that “I can adjust the speaker volume levels higher in the event outside noise levels require such an adjustment.” He also offered to “provide signs and engineer marking tape … to use for designating areas for making noises and putting up signs on the Civic Center grounds.”

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