Wednesday, September 12, 2007

City Council to Trinity Trees: Get Lost

God bless Wendy Davis. She tried. And what she got for her trouble was a scolding from the Mayor of Fort Worth, Mike Moncrief.

Sorry about that, Wendy. You deserve a lot better.

After the meeting, she tried not to cry, but she did a little. And I don't blame her, because I wanted to cry, too.

It wasn't just that the Mayor and the City Council washed their hands of the whole Trinity Trees issue. It was how they did it. "This kind of public rebuke from the Mayor is absolutely appalling," said one woman, who wished not to be identified. "This city has had no better advocate on so many issues than Wendy Davis."

Davis, the District 9 City Council rep who has worked hard to find a solution that would be acceptable to all parties -- Chesapeake, Union Pacific and the people of Fort Worth -- actually brought some good news to the meeting. She's meeting with the Chesapeake CEO on Friday, along with Marc Ott, the assistant city manager who is working on the Southwest Parkway. Chesapeake and Union Pacific have used the Southwest Parkway as the reason that the Trinity Trees must be sacrificed. 'Because of the needs of the Southwest Parkway, there's no way we can use any of the Union Pacific land for drilling.' That's the reasoning.

Davis is trying to cut through this nonsense by getting the right people in the room on Friday. Good you, Wendy. But she didn't stop there.

"This issue is a symptom of a bigger problem and District 9 [Davis' district] is the first to feel it," she said. "We need to be proactive about this. We need to ask the city manager and the legal department and discuss the drilling ordinance."

Davis gets it. She understands that the issue is larger than zoning and individual property rights, it's about safety and quality of life. It is about pipelines going across our land, water trucks wearing out our streets and compression stations that could pose safety and environmental issues in our city.

"Union Pacific and Colonial Country Club are not be asked to bear the burden," she said. "What are the alternatives?"

That's a good question. We are told that the CEOs of Union Pacific and Chesapeake are going to meet. But will the people of Fort Worth have a seat at the table? That remains to be seen.

But Mayor Mikey doesn't want to get involved in this issue, and he's definitely not revisiting the drilling ordinance. "I take exception to the idea that we have not been proactive on this issue," he said. "This is a very difficult issue."

"Had Chesapeake not bought that property, did you see the kind of things that could have been put there? Would you rather have a concrete plant on that property?"

No, Mr. Mayor, I wouldn't. However, your logic is awfully close to what Bud Kennedy wrote on Sunday. And, I'm sorry to break it to you, but Bud didn't share the whole truth with you or the people of Fort Worth in his column. "That is old railroad land," he wrote. "It was always set aside for heavy industry. City Hall planners zoned it K and MU-2 -- specific designations for industrial development. ... The city zoning map is easy to find. ... Check it before you take any chops at City Hall."

So I did. Sure, K is a heavy industrial development. But most of the land is zoned MU-2 (see image from the city Web site at right). That's mixed use, which includes some light industrial, but it also includes such non-industrial uses as kindergartens, day care centers, schools and museums. Funny, Bud didn't mention that, but he really should have. Take a look for yourself. In fact, most of the land around the Modern Art Museum is zoned MU-2 (see map below). I wonder what would happen if someone wanted to put a gas well on that property? Could they get a high impact variance? Do the people of Fort Worth have a right to take chops at City Hall over that?

Mr. Mayor, given the choice between gas well and museum, I'd choose museum. Maybe a Trinity Trees Museum?

The rest of the Council was either antagonistic or silent. District 7 rep Carter Burdette, a former attorney for oil and gas interests, is unmoved by any argument to save the Trees. "The only way you'll know they're gone is if you fly over them in a helicopter." District 4 rep Danny Scarth was similarly unmoved. His reasoning seemed to be not my district, not my problem. Of course, since he crafted much of the existing ordinance, he doesn't feel the need to go back and revisit it.

Basically, Wendy Davis is the only one of the City Council who is convinced this is a real issue, despite 1,300 signatures on Trinity Tree petition and a City Council chamber full of mostly Trinity Trees supporters.

One Mistletoe Heights resident told me, "I see more and more people in my neighborhood becoming concerned with this issue. It is not going away. It's only getting bigger." And she's right. People connected to the neighborhood association there say only around 10 percent of homeowners have signed lease agreements for their mineral rights. A drilling company needs 80 percent before they can drill. I'm told numbers in neighborhoods like Ryan Place and Berkeley have also been slow to sign. Because so many of the Trinity Trees people come from these neighborhoods, I could easily see this issue preventing people from signing.

Bernie Scheffler, who is running to replace Davis in District 9 when she leaves to run for the State Senate, was surprised that Chesapeake and Union Pacific won't ask the City to get involved and help find a solution. "We aren't telling you what to do with your land, we're asking you to get involved to help find a win-win solution for everyone," he said. "Here's your chance to be good corporate citizens. It's not a complex issue."

It's not a complex issue and it's not over either.

"We'll be OK," said Rick Collins with Save the Trinity Trees. "We'll be OK."

P.S.: If you'd like, send Wendy Davis an e-mail to say thanks. Or if you feel a little rowdy, send Bud Kennedy an e-mail and ask him to correct his misleading column from Sunday.


Philip Hennen said...

I just want to thank you for your ongoing reporting of this issue. It doesn't seem like there's another local issue with so much citizen interest as the gas well issue -- and it's relation to the larger issue of urban land use. Yet, it seems local "mainstream" media don't really understand the issues or take them seriously.

Steve-O said...

Thanks for your comment, Philip. It has been a sad realization that no one at 400 West 7th Street cares about this issue. All I have to say is Thank God For Jeff Prince at FwWeekly. I saw him at the Public Forum last week, and I'm hoping he is working on something. His cover story on eminent domain was quite good.

I encourage FWST readers to treat whatever you read there with skepticism. I also encourage people e-mail S-T reader advocate David House to let him know how you feel.

This is a legitimate issue, and it is only getting bigger.

TXsharon said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I've been reading your stuff.

If Fort Worth wants to know what drilling really looks, sounds, smells and tastes like, I can show you around Wise County.

Barnett Shale: The newest blood for oil war

Jerry Lobdill said...

We are facing a blitzkreig in the next year. Let's get real. The mayor has told all council members "I'm a very vindictive guy, and if you don't go along with me I'll get you." All but Silcox are scared of him. Moncrief's a gas industry shill and profiteer. His Barnett Shale profits this year will hit $1M. Know your enemy.

Now let me explain what the industry wants. They say they want about 3000 wells inside of Loop 820. At the Trinity Trees forum it was said (and not disputed) that they wanted a drilling pad every 7000 ft inside the city limits. These numbers are astonishingly consistent if one thinks of about 6 wells per drilling pad. This density would place 15 drilling pads on every MAPSCO page of the Fort Worth MAPSCO book. Look at any page and tell me how many pad sites you can place there that will not require a high impact variance. It sure as hell isn't 15.

So what this means is that they will be coming to council daily with applications for high impact variances. So far these have been rubber-stamped. Doing this makes a complete mockery of the ordinance. That is what is going to happen unless we can mount a strong grass roots attack to stop it. They're going to need about 400 or so to produce the city.

The ordinance is based on a desire by industry to create a moral hazard so that they cannot be held liable for the almost certain disaster that will come in the form of an explosive blowout followed by fire. There is no body of data that supports any given set back (300ft, 600 ft, whatever). The function of the law is to indemnify the producers and drillers. So let's not kid ourselves into thinking it's a safety measure. With the rubber-stamp "high impact" variance they can have their cake and eat it too. What do you think will happen to our taxes, our insurance, our property resale value?

We have to get organized on a city-wide basis, or we're going to have a city that is not fit to live in.

Just my $0.02

TXsharon said...

You have more to worry about than an explosive blowout. The drilling companies warn their workers not to step in the spillage around the drilling site--it's that dangerous.

Today I talked to a man who worked for a Barnett Shale drilling company. The tanker drivers were told to open the valves on their trucks to let the drilling waste out on the ground and the roads.

Ask Devon why, if there is no sour gas in the Barnett Shale, were oil field workers seen wearing radio active gear at a drilling site in Saginaw. The area was closed off and all hush, hush.

Steve-O said...

Jerry, e-mail me when you have a chance. I'd like to get more details.