Friday, April 27, 2012

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I guess we should be glad.  Just two short years ago a battle still raged in Flower Mound over whether urban drilling should be embraced or spurned.

The 2010 election put an end to that.  By ousting the previous Town Council majority, the citizens of our community made it very clear:  WE DO NOT SUPPORT DRILLING NEAR HOMES AND SCHOOLS!

This election season candidates realize there is only one “right” side of the urban drilling issue.  The candidates working together to unseat NFL are frantically revising history to make us believe they are on our side.  They are not letting the truth stand in their way.

They’re pushing crazy conspiracies and false accusations to put doubt in the minds of voters around the very officials who shepherded in this new era of protection:  Melissa Northern, Al Filidoro, and Steve Lyda – NFL.

It is nothing short of ridiculous. I almost considered ignoring it since it is so clearly political posturing.  Ultimately, though, I decided that for those who don’t have in-depth knowledge of our long history of gas drilling in Flower Mound, providing a refresher course on what has really happened would be helpful. My intention is not to “smear” any candidates but to clear up innuendo and half-truths being spread by some of Hayden, Dixon, and Webb’s supporters. I have been in this a long, long time and my history on this subject goes back many years.

When reading the blog you will see I have listened to all sides of the story. My journey for the truth has provided me with the facts and I gladly share them with all who care to listen.As you read through this, the details are there to prove the point but are really less important than the message.

Why would any candidate revise history?

Can you trust a candidate who is willing to lie to you to get elected?

I want to start with this statement from Tom Hayden's website: “Just weeks after the NFL took office, residents including members of council, were given just 72 hours notice that the Williams Settlement had been placed on the agenda by Mayor Northern for the upcoming council meeting. ... The reason for this settlement was never clearly explained.”

The Truth:

Tom Hayden was included in emails and participated in discussions about the settlement starting more than two months before the settlement was on the agenda.

In a March 1, 2010, email from the Town Attorney to all members of Town Council (excluding two of them, Smith and Levenick, who had signed leases with Williams and therefore had a conflict of interest), Council was informed that Williams wished to work out a settlement of all outstanding issues with the Town. Every member of Council agreed that there was no harm in exploring a settlement discussion with Williams, although no specific deal points were defined. The settlement would have addressed the pending Mockingbird Pipeline lawsuit and other related issues. Council entered into the lawsuit with Mockingbird based on a two/two deadlock with Steve Dixon and Mike Wallace wanting to settle with Williams and Al Filidoro and Tom Hayden agreeing to authorize the town attorney to defend the town against Williams’ encroachment on town property.

The status of the Mockingbird Pipeline lawsuit/Williams settlement was addressed in Town Council closed sessions on April 19, 2010; June 21, 2010; July 6, 2010; July 19, 2010; August 2, 2010; August 16, 2010; and September 7, 2010.

On May 12, 2010, along with Town staff members, Councilmember Hayden, the Mayor-Elect and Councilmember Filidoro met to discuss various Town issues, including a detailed discussion about a settlement with Williams.

On June 16, 2010, each member of Town Council received a detailed memorandum from the Town Attorney spelling out the proposed terms of a settlement agreement with Williams; a copy of the proposed settlement agreement was also provided.

Later that same day (June 16, 2010), Councilmember Hayden provided comments via e-mail about the proposed settlement agreement including the type of landscaping he preferred. He copied other Councilmembers about his thoughts on the proposed settlement agreement. Also on June 16, the Town Attorney responded to the issues Councilmember Hayden raised in his e-mail.

Other Councilmembers also raised questions and provided input about the proposed settlement agreement. On June 18, 2010, in an attorney/client document, the entire Council was provided detailed information about compression facilities at the Williams pad site.

By Saturday, June 19, 2010, a fourth version of the settlement agreement was exchanged between the parties and a detailed memorandum provided by the Town Attorney to the entire Town Council about the latest revisions to the proposed settlement agreement. After additional discussions with individual members of the Town Council, a revised agreement was forwarded to Williams on June 21, 2010.

On the afternoon of June 21, 2010, each member of Town Council received a bullet point outline from the Town Attorney detailing the items referenced in the proposed settlement agreement that were not already contained in Town ordinances.

After additional revisions, late on the afternoon of June 21, 2010, a finalized version of the proposed settlement agreement was forwarded by the Town Attorney to Town Council.

During the Town Council meeting on June 21, 2010, while addressing the proposed settlement agreement and how it came about, the Town Attorney stated that Town Council had been kept abreast of the process (Book 38, Page 489, Town Council Minutes). Nowhere during the discussion of the proposed settlement agreement did any Councilmember state that he or she was unaware of the proposed settlement agreement or had been taken by surprise that it was on the agenda. Several Councilmembers discussed the settlement agreement’s proposed terms in great detail. If the proposed settlement agreement was a surprise to any of them, they certainly hid their surprise well! In fact, Tom Hayden himself told me he participated in a meeting with Williams prior to the settlement being presented to the public.

The reasons for the proposed settlement agreement were explained to all Councilmembers in detail on multiple occasions. If any Councilmember believed anything was unclear about the proposed settlement agreement, there were many opportunities to address those concerns. Every Councilmember contacted the Town Attorney with input, thoughts, questions, suggestions, and concerns.

The Truth: Flower Mound does not have a Centralized Collection Facility.

Flower Mound has had a Centralized “Compression” Facility since 2008, NOT a Centralized “Collection” Facility. The compression facility was unanimously approved by the Oil & Gas Board of Appeals on February 13, 2008.  At the 2008 OGBOA hearing on the Central Compression Facility application, no one spoke in opposition to the facility and the Town Council had no role in the approval or denial of the variance request. If the Town Council had been opposed to the approval of the variance for the compression facility, the only recourse for the Town Council would have been to sue the OGBOA.  In any case this all took place before NFL was in office. 

The Truth: NFL has stopped the industrialization of Flower Mound.

During NFL’s tenure on Council, the 26 gas wells that have been approved were on existing pad sites and were already in progress and applied for with the Texas Railroad Commission and the town before NFL took office in May 2010. Every well fell under the 2007 weakened ordinance. NO NEW WELLS HAVE BEEN APPROVED UNDER THE NEW ORDINANCE!

As has been explained to the Oil and Gas Advisory Board and the Oil & Gas Board of Appeals, state law requires that once the Town is aware of a permit (even without a formal application), the applicant’s rights vest. The failure to recognize this vesting is a violation of state law. This also has been explained by the Town Attorney or members of his office on multiple occasions at Town Council meetings and board and commission meetings.

I served on the Oil and Gas Advisory Board and we discussed "vested interest" as it pertains to Oil and Gas drilling in the State of Texas numerous times. To ignore a vested interest is a violation of state law; municipal ordinances cannot “trump” state law.

The Truth: NFL had no means to stop the Hilliard airfield pad site.

We have heard for almost two years that “there is room for legal debate on this issue.” Where is any legal opinion that supports that statement? Hayden, Dixon, and Webb supporters, including Councilmember Stephenson, have been asked for copies of legal opinions they purportedly obtained from outside lawyers — and in no event has any of them ever provided a copy of a legal opinion.

The facts are:  The Texas Railroad Commission approved the permit for the Hilliard pad site in September 2009.  In October 2009, Titan put in their first application with the Town for the Hilliard pad site. Because of the timing the Hilliard application was vested under the old gas ordinance. The pad site met the requirements of the old ordinance, therefore the town was obliged to administratively approve it Town Council is obligated to follow all laws and ordinances, even those that were adopted by prior councils, whether they agree or not.  In the Hilliard case, the council could not reasonably challenge this permit and win in a court of law.

On September 10, 2010, the Town provided residents with a lengthy, detailed analysis of the Hilliard pad site permit.  The permit was also discussed in depth at the September 20, 2010, Town Council meeting. Issues raised by citizens about the Hilliard pad site were explored. Click here to read the power point presentation. The issue of Hilliard’s vested rights remained.  Some residents just did not like the response.

The issue has been raised that Mr. Hilliard needed a variance to remove trees on his property and that the failure to receive a variance was a basis upon which to deny his drilling permit. This contention is wrong. Since the adoption of the first tree ordinance by the Town in the 1990's, an owner of any property zoned agricultural is permitted to remove up to 19 protected trees annually. Only an administrative tree removal permit is required. A tree removal request on agriculturally zoned property does not go before a board and does not require a Town Council vote.  

An agricultural tree removal permit differs from the other types of tree removal permits discussed in the tree ordinance in several ways. First, this type of permit does not have to be associated with any type of property development. Second, the only criteria necessary for approval is that the property be zoned agricultural and that the trees be protected trees and not specimen trees. The Town’s tree ordinance does not require the property owner to give a reason for requesting the agricultural tree removal permit. Town staff verified that all trees requested for removal were protected trees, not specimen trees, and the applicant requested to remove 19 protected trees, as permitted by ordinance.

NFL did campaign on not being afraid of a lawsuit but this was always understood to mean they would not be bullied when the Town was in the right, not that they would irresponsibility invite legal challenge by taking positions that had no legal justification. To fight simply for the sake of fighting when the law and facts are clearly not on your side is a waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly when the Town will be financially liable. We should expect town staff and elected officials to be fiscal stewards of taxpayers’ money and not subject the town to frivolous legal risk even if the public doesn’t like the law... With the exception of the “mystery lawyers” referenced by several Town residents over the years, no credible attorney has ever contended that the Town could deny the Hilliard permit.

It is interesting to note that Hayden/Dixon/Webb supporters often cite NFL’s adherence to the law as some sort of breach of trust and yet both Dixon and Hayden served on Council at the same time and likewise followed the law in the same manner as NFL. 

The Truth: NFL always works in a transparent manner to protect Flower Mound from industrialization by gas drillers.

As noted in response to the first item from the Hayden website, if Councilmember Hayden or any other Councilmember only had 72 hours’ notice that the proposed Williams settlement agreement was on the agenda, then they simply did not read their e-mail, agenda packets, or communications from the Town Attorney.

All Councilmembers were fully apprised of the proposed Williams settlement agreement and had been notified repeatedly about it. Councilmembers offered input into the proposed settlement agreement and commented upon it. Steve Dixon expressed his excitement that 6 items from his "wish list" made it to the settlement. The fact that Councilmembers commented upon the proposed agreement did not mean that they were in favor of it — they were simply asking questions about it. The normal process for the Town Council is to comment and question, which also happened in this case.

In fact, and regardless of the above, Town Council unanimously chose to reject any settlement agreement with Williams. In any lawsuit, it is customary for the parties to attempt to negotiate a settlement prior to trial. The Court almost always demands an attempted negotiation and the legal system strongly encourages the parties to come together and see if a controversy can be worked out prior to trial. In some cases, settlements can be worked out and in some, like this one, they cannot. Entering into negotiations does not tacitly mean that there is any agreement; here, it meant that Williams’ attorneys and town staff, worked on a proposed agreement, and after review, it was determined by the entire Town Council that a settlement could not be reached.

There was no settlement on the above Williams litigation and no future settlements were entered into by the Town. The parties proceeded forward in the case.  Ultimately, the Town of Flower Mound prevailed and Mockingbird Pipeline/Williams paid $55,000 to the Town as reimbursement of its legal fees.

As mentioned above, no new wells or pad sites have been approved under the Town’s new oil and gas ordinance.  Any administrative approvals of additional wells were based on permits filed prior to the NFL’s strengthening of the oil and gas ordinance in 2011.  While many of us would have loved for the Town to have had the latitude to tacitly reject permits vested under the old ordinance, case law is well established that we would not have prevailed in court. I hope you will remember who shepherded in this new era of protection. When someone wants to throw stones at these clear leaders in the fight against urban drilling, consider the source and their motivation.  Without the burden of the responsibility of governing, it’s easy to stand on the outside and ignore legal precedent in order to justify one’s beliefs.  As citizens we can engage in wishful thinking but our elected officials cannot.  They have a duty to act responsibly.. NFL has acted responsibly and also done all they can to protect this community.  As for the purveyors of conspiracy and innuendo, and the candidates they support, I don’t expect my comments to be persuasive to them at all because no amount of legal reasoning or precedent will deter someone who chooses to stay ignorant or ignore the law.

My comments are not intended for those vested in a particular candidate slate, those insistent on being right about some inane aspect of the ordinance, or someone with an axe to grind.  They are intended for consideration by the vast majority of residents who are simply vested in what is best for Flower Mound.  I am available by email on this blog for anyone who wants to discuss this further. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fool Me Once Shame On You, Fool Me Twice Shame On Me!

In the past few weeks, I have received phone calls from residents telling me they are being told by Hayden, Dixon and Webb that gas drilling in Flower Mound is a dead issue.

First of all I want to address the gas drilling is a "dead issue" . Folks, don't be fooled. The gas and oil industry wants to create their own demand and are already applying for permits to export liquefied natural gas or LNG to other countries. There is big money in exporting LNG. Gas companies can get up to 3 times or more for the gas from other countries. Before you get excited, gas companies probably won't pass that profit on to the US mineral owners. Your gas will most likely be based on the going rate of gas here in the US. Which is at an all time low.
Click here to read about LNG and CNG at Texas Sharon.

Some of the Flower Mound Residents are being told, in so many words, the following:

Flower Mound has a strong ordinance in place and there are no applications pending.

The gas drilling ship has sailed.

That Dixon and Webb, previously were pro drilling, have changed their mind and in so many words "hear" the people of Flower Mound.

Candidate Bryan Webb who not only spoke in favor of gas drilling, but publicly displayed his support for gas drilling. 
Mr. Webb signed a lease with Keystone Exploration, a company currently suing the town. In 2010, Keystone became involved in our town elections. Keystone Exploration sent out letters to residents and endorsed Bryan Webb, Jody Smith, and Gerald Robinson. In a recent Flower Mound Leader article, Mr. Webb said "I do not believe, nor did I believe two years ago, that “responsible” drilling includes sites in our town’s neighborhoods. My statements on this have been clear." But in April of 2010, many of us that are truly concerned about gas drilling near schools and neighborhoods had to look at Mr. Webb's signs prominently displayed on Mr. Hilliard Field during the 2010 election. Now that is a statement that was loud and clear. Hmm, maybe Mr. Webb doesn't consider Hilliard Field to be near neighborhoods or schools. 

Candidate, Steve Dixon, who is running again, and says he has "heard" the residents, he is making promises that he will honor the ordinance. Promises just like he did in previous campaign literature in 2008 where he had this quote, " Have a review of the oil and gas ordinance (with citizens input we can make it better for us) – Safety is my top concern !" and 2009, promised to tighten the ordinance to not allow drilling within 1000 feet of a residence. Which would have required amendments to the variances in the Oil and Gas Ordinance. Mr. Dixon sat on council for months and NEVER again mentioned strengthening the ordinance. In late 2009, then Council members Dixon, Wallace and Levenick voted against putting in a moratorium so the ordinance could be reviewed and more studies could be done on gas drilling effects on air and water.  In early 2010, Dixon voted to put in zoning to allow the infamous Centralized Collection Facility. Then voted against accepting the petition that requested an oil and gas committee be established to review the gas ordinance. And again voted against putting a moratorium into place in early May of 2010 even after 6000 residents spoke loud and clear.  Mike Wallace, like Dixon, also pretended to be concerned about drilling near homes and schools but proceeded to vote pro-gas at each opportunity. Many of us who were anti urban drilling have to live with the fact that we were so deceived by these two that we actually displayed their campaign signs in our yards during the 2009 election."  

I had a picture of Amy Wallace's which had a Hayden, Dixon, Webb sign on it. She has asked me to remove it. So I did.

Take a look at the signs proudly displayed in Mike Wallace's yard during this election season. (Mike Wallace's wife posted this picture on Facebook) No surprises here. Wallace's wife was on Facebook implying NFL is afraid that Hayden/Dixon/Webb, if elected, will appoint Wallace to the empty seat Hayden vacated. I don't know if that scares NFL but it scares the crap out of me. Wallace's wife said Mike has no desire to return to council YET (defintion of yet: at a future time; eventually). If Dixon and Webb were elected and the council had enough votes to put Wallace back on Council by appointment, this should scare the pants off of every resident who wants to keep gas away from our homes and schools.

Here is a little hypothetical scenario for you. When they start exporting our natural gas, greed will set in. If these candidates get elected, they could change their mind because some of their "big"  and "loyal" supporters (those who supported them when they were pro drilling), decide they want to loosen the ordinance like a group of residents in Southlake are trying to do right now. They will use excuses like, we will get sued. (Yet the Oil and Gas Board of Appeals decision has already been tested. In 2008, a court of law threw out the Red Oak/Riverwalk case and upheld the OGBOA denial of 12 variances.) We will hear it is the American thing to do. Help the economy. You know like old times again.

Then the "former" (cough cough) pro drilling candidates, again if elected, decide they want to do away with the Oil and Gas Board of Appeals and go to the Special Use Permit for zoning gas drilling, like Southlake and some other towns. This would allow the Town Council to vote on whether to grant variances and if they will permit wells to be drilled. If you think our Town Council Elections are nasty and political now, just wait till the council is responsible for voting on gas drilling and production in our town.

You think this can't happen? Think again.

Just a quick history lesson.
Between May 2004 and 2010 over 55 wells were permitted during Mayor Jody Smith reign.
September 20, 2004, Flower Mound permitted the first gas well on the Bunn site.

In 2006 a Oil and Gas Stakeholder Committee, chosen by Mayor Jody Smith's drill friendly council, made up of mostly large property owners (where there are some pad sites now)    and industry people, decided our 2003 Oil and Gas Ordinance was not driller friendly, scratch that, too strong. March of 2007, Mayor Smith, Council Members Tasker, Stone, Lindsey and Trotter voted to accept the recommendations from the 2006 Oil and Gas Stakeholders to weaken the setbacks and amend the ordinance.
Only Council Member Laurie Long voted against the changes.

Makes you wonder about all the wells that might not be near homes and schools.

Gas drilling is an important issue but I am aware that gas drilling isn't the only issue facing our town right now.

Just ask yourself these few questions.
How important is a promise made from a candidate on ANY issue that is important to you?
What if they said one thing but did the complete opposite?
Does it matter if it is gas drilling, economic growth, fiscal responsibility, etc.? 

I believe actions speak louder than words.

I believe if an elected official is running again, they should be judged on their actions when they had the power to make a difference and didn't, not the words they say when they want that power back.

How about you? Are you willing to gamble on the health, safety, and quality of life in our great Town of Flower Mound?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Titan postpones hearing for lawsuit against the Town of Flower Mound

Titan Operating has postponed the Wednesday, April 25th 11:00 am hearing against the Town of Flower Mound until late May.

No date has been set for a new hearing. Keep watching for more info.