Monday, September 03, 2007

Save The Trinity Trees Picnic

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from yesterday’s Trinity Trees picnic -- a bunch of people hugging trees and eating tofu while listening to folk music?

Well, there was folk music, courtesy of The Ackermans, but the crowd looked surprisingly non-revolutionary, just regular folks. But there were a bunch of ‘em – looked to be at least 250 or 300, which was a pleasant surprise. If you can that many people out to support a couple of acres of trees and the heart of conservative, button-down Fort Worth, maybe those trees have chance after all.

I don’t get to see these trees in the daylight too often. Most often I’m riding through them before dawn. The trees are quite impressive and form a canopy that offers cool and shade even on a warm late summer day. One of the trees had a sign tied around it: “Burr Oak: 250 Years Old.” It would be a tragedy to lose a tree like that.

Of course, the Chesapeake Energy folks were there trying to put lipstick on the pig. I’ve had some crappy jobs before, but they all look pretty good compared to “energy company apologist who attends angry neighborhood meetings.”

There were speakers aplenty. I was most interested in seeing my main man Bernie Scheffler (above) do his thing. His speech was short and too-the-point – he is the only candidate running for the District 9 City Council seat who opposes gas drilling. Period.

It doesn’t get any plainer than that – if you want a voice on the council who will protect the health and safety of people in Fort Worth and not just give the drilling companies whatever they want, he’s your guy. If you happen to like rubber-stamp government and giving gas drilling companies a blank check, you have six other candidates to choose from.

Former City Council member Clyde Picht and soon-to-be-former member Wendy Davis said the same thing – the council could have done more in the past to protect the trees if they had written a better ordinance. Picht also suggested the possibility of a land swap. We’ll see where that goes.

Attorney Liane Janovsky (right) spoke powerfully and persuasively about what is at stake. “Natural gas drilling in an urban setting has never happened before on this scale. We are the guinea pigs. We must demand that the city and the gas drilling companies do what’s right so we can live in a safe, clean environment.”

Janovsky also spoke about the Tarrant Appraisal District going back and re-assessing land values in the wake of people signing drilling leases. “You are going to see the land under your house get taxed at rates never before seen.”

Probably the hottest topic for people in the Ryan Place neighborhood are the high-impact variances which would allow companies to drill within 600-feet of a residential area. Some of the proposed drilling along Eighth Avenue could come within 250 feet. Gas drilling companies say it’s safe – but gas drilling companies also say it’s normal to have gas wells spew acrid fog over your house. Yeah, I ain’t buying that one either.

One of the more amusing moments came when another District 9 candidate Chris Turner spoke. The Republican political consultant has the unique ability to talk for 10 minutes yet say absolutely nothing. Is he against urban drilling? He didn’t say. His message seemed to be this: corporations are people, too. Evidently, if we just talk to them, the gas drilling companies will do the right thing. Guess he’s never had an acrid fog over his house.

Of course, it’s only fair to give the other side a chance to speak, and Chesapeake trotted out one of their flunkies to spout the party line. Except things went terribly, terribly wrong. The Chesapeake flunky stepped in it when he said something about global warming, then tried to quickly backtrack by saying, “Of course, we don’t know if global warming really exists.” I’m sure you could have heard the groan of the crowd at Ol South Pancake House. Sorry pal, maybe the folks at Chesapeake don’t side with 98 percent of the world’s scientists, but you could bet the ranch everyone you are speaking to about the Trinity Trees does.

It went south from there with the Chesapeake guy getting into a shouting match with one of the other speakers. Note to Chesapeake: this is not how you win friends in Fort Worth.

But that wasn’t the only Chesapeake gaffe. To show what good corporate citizens they are, they placed little signs showing where they would plant replacement trees. However, the only thing that succeeded in doing was showing the edge of their proposed drilling site. And that line goes pretty close to the river. Lots of people were shocked to see just how many trees would get the ax.

I don’t know if these trees can be saved. Chesapeake owns the land and they can do what they want. But I believe that attitudes are changing against urban drilling. People aren’t liking what they are hearing about the experiences of people in Oakhurst and East Fort Worth who signed years ago. People aren’t trusting the drilling companies and they are starting to ask hard questions and dig in their heels.

Please stay tuned – there’s more coming up. If you are able, please attend the City sponsored Public Forum this Thursday, September 6, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Capstone Church, 1700 Rogers Road. Also, take some time to send a letter to the Mayor and the City Council to voice your opinion.

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