Thursday, September 06, 2007

Interview: Jim Marshall and Rick Collins

I know I've been sounding like a broken record lately, but today's topic is -- once again -- the Trinity Trees. Two men who are part of the driving force behind Save The Trinity Trees, Jim Marshall and Rick Collins, granted me an interview about their efforts to save the grove that is home to some of the biggest and oldest trees in Fort Worth.

Jim and Rick are long-time Fort Worth residents and literally lifelong friends. We grew up together in the Meadowbrook Drive area of Fort Worth’s historic East Side. You might know Jim better as the former owner of Marshall Grain Company. Jim has actively been involved in trying to save the Trinity Trees since the day he first learned of Chesapeake Energy’s plans to bulldoze the 2.5 acre grove. His army of one gradually gained some supporters, one of whom was his childhood buddy, Rickey. They are both in this to win one for the environment, as well as for the thousands of Fort Worth residents who have literally grown up walking through this magnificent tree grove.

Many other volunteers have joined along the way. Among the most devoted are Jenny Conn, Don Young and Melissa Kohout. A list of numerous other volunteers and supporters can be found at www.trinitytrees.org.

Take a couple of moments to look at their comments. But most importantly, go to the city-sponsored Public Forum tonight from 6-8 p.m. at the Capstone Church on 1700 Rogers Road (see the map above). What is needed now is turnout -- bring your families and friends and show Chesapeake and the City of Fort Worth that a large number of people feel strongly that steps must be taken to save the Trinity Trees.

The Caravan of Dreams: Thanks for your time, guys. Could you briefly explain why you are doing this?
Save Trinity Trees: Trinity Trees is a coalition united around one common goal: Saving some of Fort Worth’s most beautiful, historic trees and green spaces from being destroyed and preserving these areas as critical environmental assets. This is about preserving a reasonable balance between economic and sociological issues. Most of all, this is about fostering a spirit of open dialogue and civic responsibility.

TCoD: I ride my bike through this area almost every day. I always thought it was city park land. If this is private property, why does the Trinity Trail go through there? Does the city pay for its upkeep?
STT: You, I and every trail user I have spoken to thought this area was a park. Here’s why we thought it was a park:

  • It looked like a park with park benches, two picnic tables and the Trinity Trail winding through it.

  • It was mowed and maintained by the Tarrant Regional Water District to a park-like appearance.

  • Up until July 22, 2007, there were three signs that said “PARK is closed from 11:30 P.M. to 7:30 A.M.

  • Our understanding is that the trail system uses an easement that goes along the river. I’m told that the easement starts at the top of the river bank and goes 100 feet inland. The easement will remain even if Chesapeake clear-cuts the 2.5 acres for the gas well pad site. The southern border of the proposed pad site appears to follow the 100 feet easement line.

    TCoD: Some people would say, "So what. It's a few trees." How would you respond to that?
    STT: Thousands of citizens who’ve enjoyed the Hike and Bike Trail over the years cherish this tranquil grove of old-growth trees. For many, this is the most beautiful stand of trees along the entire trail system. The “So what…it’s (just) a few trees” attitude is frequently expressed by the same types of people who said Katrina was just a hurricane or Global Warming is a left-wing conspiracy. The truth is indeed frequently an "inconvenient” one.

    Furthermore, trees do a lot more for our health than just provide shade. Trees are an important part of what makes an urban environment livable. When we say that, we most often immediately think that they’re simply nice to look at, but the reality is that trees keep our community healthy. A major capital asset in a city, a grove of trees — in our case a mini-urban forest — can offset the effects of pollution by sequestering carbon and other heat-trapping gasses.

    A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings.

    TCoD: Could Chesapeake just replace or move the trees?
    STT: The problem is not only the loss of the trees. It is the impact on the entire eight-acre site as a whole. There are very few areas left in Fort Worth like this. As Councilwoman Wendy Davis said at the picnic, for Fort Worth, this is an irreplaceable treasure.

    If Chesapeake puts in their gas well pad site, the 2.5-acre core or heart of this treasure will be converted to a barren, vegetation-free industrial pad. And despite Chesapeake’s promise that after drilling the area will be landscaped to blend in with its urban environment, the 2.5 acre pad site will remain a gravel maintenance yard for the life of the wells — up to 50 years.

    So even if Chesapeake moved or replaced the 142 old-growth trees it plans on destroying, irreparable damage will be done to the eight acres, to the environment and to the community.

    TCoD: Isn't it wrong to paint Chesapeake as the bad guy? I mean, the previous owner wanted to put up office buildings and apartments on this site?
    STT: That, too, would have resulted in a tragic loss of this special green space. Often the argument is made that the destruction that Chesapeake is planning is not as bad as what the developer was planning. However, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. There exists a third alternative. If you check our Web site you’ll see we have sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council proposing said alternative: Chesapeake decides to move its pad site to the already industrial area a few hundred feet to the north; the developer agrees that putting in its buildings is not the best use of the grove of trees; steps are taken to convert the eight acres to a public park. To make this happen, we need three things from all vested parties (including our city leaders): consent, cooperation and compromise.

    We shall continue to request that none of those three things be unreasonably withheld.

    TCoD: Is this an all-or-nothing deal? Is the only solution for the Chesapeake Energy NOT to drill on this site? Or could Chesapeake drill on the site and still maintain most of the existing trees?
    STT: According to the Star-Telegram, (“Hundreds rally against planned well site,” September 4, 2007) Chesapeake’s plans for clear-cutting 2.5 acres will result in removing 142 of the 412 trees in the grove. This appears to be Chesapeake’s idea of maintaining “most of the existing trees.” Again, an alternative exists where all of the trees can remain, Chesapeake can still achieve its drilling goals for this area, and the leaseholders can still receive their financial benefits.

    TCoD: Why not just drill on Colonial or Union Pacific land? I mean, they are the ones who stand to make alot of the money off this thing.
    STT: Drilling on the Colonial maintenance area located to the west of the golf course has been suggested to Chesapeake. This may be an alternative, but the more logical choice appears to be Union Pacific land.

    There are two or more areas on the Union Pacific property that seem like they would work just fine. These areas are already industrialized with no vegetation; are only a few hundred feet from the eight-acre site, are not currently intensely used and have a service road in place. It seems like one of these would make a very good alternative site.

    TCoD: Ultimately, is this all kind of a moot point. It's private property and if the owner wants drilling, aren't they just going to go ahead and do it?
    STT: The eight-acre parcel of land is private property owned by Chesapeake. As such, they have the right to do whatever they want to with the land and the trees within the limits of legal obligations. However, there should also be obligations to the environment, the community and the common good.

    While recognizing and fully respecting the private property rights of Chesapeake, we also recognize that the community has the right to express its concerns and suggest viable alternatives that allow Chesapeake to conduct its operations and, at the same time, preserve valuable, limited green space.

    Chesapeake may decide to go ahead with their plans. However, if the public outcry becomes so massive and they see that the potential negative publicity could outweigh the inconvenience of moving the planned site, a change could occur.

    TCoD: Say somebody called you a treehugger? Is that an accurate assessment? Have you ever hugged a tree?
    STT: We would not be ashamed to be called treehuggers, but we probably don’t fully qualify. Rick says we don’t hug trees so much as embrace the issues this particular dispute represents. We believe our positions and suggestions are more along the lines of looking for balanced solutions that can protect much needed urban green space while still allowing for businesses to achieve their goals. We would assume that pure tree huggers would take more of an extreme position to save trees at all costs.

    Jim has hugged trees but not in an affectionate way. The hugging has occurred while trying to gauge the size of trees and to comprehend the enormity of these majestic giants.

    TCoD: If someone wants to help out, what do you need most?
    STT: What is needed right now is for people to come to the City-sponsored Public Forum. People should voice their opinions in other ways by contacting the City, Chesapeake, Union Pacific and the media.

    TCoD: When will something be decided on this? What is D-Day for these trees?
    STT: That’s an excellent question that we don’t have the answer to. Chesapeake has applied for an urban gas drilling permit. There is a public information meeting regarding the permit on September 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the Southwest Community Center, 6300 Welch Avenue.

    We assume the trees will not be cut before the information meeting, but we don’t know that for sure. The hearing will be another opportunity for concerned citizens to show up in large numbers.

    TCoD: Thanks, Jim and Rick. Thanks for your time and thanks for what you are doing to try and save an important part of Fort Worth. Keep up the fight!

    3 comments:

    Bernie said...

    Yes, thank you Jim and Rick. I'll see you guys at the meeting.

    -Bernie

    Anonymous said...

    Although I do agree that the preservation of the trees is a worthy cause, their tends to be a snow ball effect. What surface or mineral rights owners are willing to give up their part of the lease to move the site? Another question is at what point does being an owner of land, that being it is YOUR land, have to start doing with your land what everyone else wants you to do. Don't get me wrong, I love Fort Worth and the preservation that goes on within it, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Lets be realistic, it is impossible to please everyone, and wether we like it or not, we need the natural gas...

    Steve-O said...

    And someone will get the natural gas. The question is what is the cheapest for Chesapeake. There is land on Union Pacific property, there is land on Colonial property, then there is land Chesapeake already owns. Of course Chesapeake would want to use the land they already own rather than pay Colonial or UP the kind of money involved in putting a well on their property.

    But is that in the best interest of the people of Fort Worth? If that means destroying some of the oldest trees in the city, I say no.

    I am being realistic. It is possible to please everyone. The question is will Chesapeake be reasonable and find another way to do this.

    And if you want to talk about "doing what you want to do" with your own land, I'll refer you to this post. Billy Mitchell doesn't want a pipeline on his land, but he has one because a drilling company used eminent domain to force it on there. Wouldn't it be nice if eminent domain actually WORKED FOR the people rather than the gas drilling interests for a change?

    Also, from a housekeeping perspective, I don't usually like anonymous posts on contentious issues like this. If you want to discuss this, please identify yourself with an e-mail. The views of private citizens are welcome. Corporate shills, on the other hand, are not.