Take a Tour of Dallas Gas Sites and Decide for Yourself if They’re Wasteland

Trinity River wasteland

(Dallas)—-A local clean air group released a short film of an official Dallas City Plan Commission tour of controversial gas drilling and production sites that it says rebuts the claims made by City Council members during last Wednesday's City Manager’s briefing on parkland drilling that the land is "desolate" and a "wasteland.”

Downwinders at Risk posted "Dallas Fracking Mystery Tour” early Tuesday morning for public viewing on its own website. It's a fast-paced four minute journal of a January 31st City Plan Dallas City Plan Commission bus tour of all three proposed Trinity East gas permit sites in Dallas: The Gun Club and the LB Houston/Luna Vista Golf Course drilling sites, both on city parkland, as well as the Luna Vista Processing Plant site, aka, "The Rawlings Refinery and Compressor Station," located only a short distance away from the City of Dallas' new Elm Fork Athletic Complex.

The group hired a local professional filmmaker to accompany the 15 Plan Commissioners, various city staff and members of the public on the half-day outing from the time they boarded two buses at City Hall to the last site visit, including question and answer sessions between Commissioners and David Cossum, the City of Dallas Assistant Director of Sustainable Development and Construction. The result is a quick take on each of the sites through the eyes of the tour participants.

“Contrary to claims by Council members who’ve never visited the sites they want to condemn, the Trinity River bottoms are not “wasteland,” said Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders. “Even a quick look like this tour offered shows its never going to be mistaken for a Midland-Odessa oil patch.”

During last Wednesday’s briefing, Council member Sheffie Kadane compared the park land sites at the Gun Club and the Golf Course to West Texas oilfields, Council member Jerry Allen called them a “wasteland,” and Council member Dwaine Caraway said they didn’t represent “quality park land.” But looking at it the sites from the perspective of the Plan Commission tour, one sees expanses of hardwood forests, sculpted fairways, and a peacefully flowing Trinity River close-by.

Besides offering a striking visual counterpoint, the tour’s on-site Q&As between Plan Commission and City staff reveal other mistakes in drilling proponents’ claims about the sites. For example, Kadane has insisted there would never be drilling equipment in the actual flood plain, but as Cossum explains to an inquiring Commissioner, there will be.

Another Q&A at the refinery and compressor station site reveals City staff’s contradictory stances on sources of pollution surrounding the Elm Fork Athletic Complex – a new recreation facility expected to attract hundreds or thousands of children and their families on weekends.

The city is opposing a new permit from a near-by rock crushing facility permit because of concerns about its 17 tons of annual air pollution so close to the Complex, but supporting the construction of a gas refinery and compressor station that will admittedly release at least 75 tons a year of air pollution only 50 feet further away.  

Using the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” as a recurring soundtrack, the short film uses no voice over narration, relying only on the comments of tour participants and text. It repeatedly asks why the city would contradict its own current policy, answering that “It was a Mystery” at the time of the tour.

However in a postscript, it adds the February 7th Dallas Observer publication of the 2008 “secret agreement” between Dallas City Manager and Trinity East to exchange funds for leases on city land for city staff help in approving drilling and production permits. “Suddenly, it wasn’t a mystery anymore.”

Schermbeck says his group hopes the film will put “a face on the sites” they haven’t had before, and offer a short, entertaining way to get educated about the controversy.There’s been a lot of misinformation about these sites perpetrated by people who’ve never visited them. People can now see them the way the Plan Commission did and decide for themselves.“

Big Day in Big D Drilling Fight: DMN Comes Out Swinging, and Claudia Meyer Will Take On Vonciel Hill for Council Seat

boxing gloves picIt's hard to put Wednesday's Dallas City Council meeting into words. The level of aggressive ignorance reached heretofore unknown oxygen-gasping altitudes, as a City Manager who intentionally deceived the Council and public for at least five years was compared to Jesus, and meddlesome residents were castigated for being impediments to the real job at hand – draining city "wasteland" of its gas resources.

Save for a Perry Mason-worthy cross-examination of City Manager Mary Suhm by Council member Angela Hunt with back-up by Scott Griggs and Sandy Greyson, citizens looking for some accountability for the lack of disclosure over a side deal with industry, or how parkland that was never slated for drilling suddenly landed on a list of drill sites, were left very disappointed.

But professional journalists are paid to write about such things no matter how hard it is to capture the depth of obliviousness, shallowness, and empty-headedness. And If you haven't already, you need to read two published accounts that will send you reeling. One is Jim Schutze's take in the Dallas Observer. The other is today's surprisingly strong Dallas Morning News editorial. We urge you to leave an online comment in support of this editorial, as it's one of the most remarkable the News has ever published. That in itself should indicate how bad Wednesday was – even the Morning News, defender of the Dallas Establishment, was appalled.

As Schutze points out, the most over-the-top and vicious diatribe belonged to current Council member Vonciel Hill, who wrapped herself in self-righteous religious language in condemning fellow council member Angela Hunt and praising the City Manager. From her skewed point of view, it was Mary Suhm who had been outrageously wronged, and Hunt who was at fault for even questioning the integrity of a person who would engage in obviously unimportant things like secret agreements with industry, and misleading statements. 

That's why we're very encouraged to hear the news this morning that longtime neighborhood advocate and clean air supporter Claudia Meyer is filing to run against Vonciel Hill in the newly-created District 3 that covers southwest Dallas. Claudia is a former Assisted Living facility director and medical social worker who's lived with her husband in the same Mountain Creek home for over 30 years. She’s been a well-known neighborhood advocate as a board member of both the Fox Hollow Homeowners Association and Mountain Creek Neighborhood Alliance. She also has a long history of volunteer public service on behalf of the community including membership on the boards of the Friends of Mountain Creek Library, Friends of Fox Hollow Park, and the Dallas Municipal Library Board.

But most people reading this will instantly recognize her as the motherly-figure that has guided Dallas neighborhood resistance to irresponsible gas drilling for the last four years. She and her husband Ed have been a fixture at every official meeting where gas permits have been discussed since 2009. They also happen to be longtime Downwinders, having come on board during the 1990's TXI hazardous waste burning fight.

Claudia Meyer B&WGiven the tone of the Dallas City Council on Wednesday, symbolized by Vonciel Hill's speechifying, electing Claudia Meyer may be that the most important thing any Dallas area person who calls him or herself an environmentalist can do for the local biosphere between now and June. Why? Defeat of Hill would strike at the heart of the drilling-at-all-costs faction of the Council, and just might provide a one-vote margin for denying all three  Trinity East gas permits, including the refinery/compressor station that will become Dallas' 10th largest air polluter in Dallas the moment it comes online.  Moreover, along with Scott Griggs and Sandy Greyson, Claudia could be a strong voice for a greener, more citizen-friendly Dallas in general. That's why the North Dallas-based Citizens Council will probably be spending a lot of money trying to re-elect Hill.

We'll continue to try and help you educate yourselves about candidate choices, so that you'll when you step into the booth and pull the lever, you'll know who best answers the question: "In your opinion, If Jesus was the City Manager of Dallas, would he make secret deals with gas companies and be hankering to drill on park land?"

Finally, today folks begin arriving for the national fracking conference taking place on Saturday and Sunday at the Best Western Plus Dallas Hotel & Conference Center at 8051 Lyndon B Johnson Freeway just east of Coit (map). The line-up for speakers on Sunday is particularly stellar, as we wrote about last week – three national speakers you don't get to hear in the same place on the same day very often.

And if you want the Dallas City Council to know exactly how you feel about its performance on Wednesday, you can join members of the nationally known "Light Brigade" for an evening protest on Saturday beginning at 6:30 at the hotel. These folks use LED lights to make short "freeway blogger" type messages that thousands of people end up seeing. Very effective use of new technology. Saturday's message will be "No Fracking" and they'll be close enough to LBJ to make an impact. You can learn more about them here at their Facebook page.

What Wednesday made clear is that we have a lot of work left to do, and that this is now a defining moment in Dallas civic history. We have the power to shape it, but we all must now commit to not only talking the talk, but walking the walk – block by block. 

Timing is Everything: National Fracking Conference Coming to Dallas

spotlight on drillingWhen it fracks, it pours.

Just as the long-running fight over gas drilling in Dallas explodes into a full-fledged City Hall scandal, here comes a national fracking conference to spotlight how the rush to drill can create more problems than it solves. 

On Saturday March 2nd, and Sunday March 3rd, DFW residents have a great opportunity to take a break in the fight and see superstars of the citizens movement in person when the "Stop the Frack Attack" conference settles in for a two-day run at the Best Western Plus Dallas Hotel & Conference Center at 8051 Lyndon B Johnson Freeway just east of Coit (map).

You can look at a full schedule of speakers and workshops here, but there are some events that stand out:


9:00 am – 9:45 am: Morning Plenary: "Health Impacts of Fracking" with Wilma Subra and Nadia Steinzor.  Dr. Subra was a 1999 MacArthur "genius" award winner for helping “ordinary citizens understand, cope with and combat environmental issues.” She's one of the leading scientific voices in the grassroots environmental health movement. Nadia Steinzor is the Marcellus Shale organizer for national group Earthworks. You you only see one presentation, you might want to make it this one.


2:50 pm -3:45 pm : "Connecting Fracking, Climate Change, and Clean Energy" with Dr. Tony Ingraffea.  Dr. Ingaffea was the Cornell University scientist who first called BS on the gas industry's claims of being 100% climate friendly. As his presentation points out, the mining and production of gas is not climate friendly at all and makes it a worse choice than coal in some respects.


4:15 pm – 5:30 pm: Closing Plenary with Deborah Rogers.

Deborah Rogers is a Ft. Worth based economic analyst whose own family property was put under siege by fracking in Cowtown. She just released a new report on the "bubble economics" of the gas industry and will close out the weekend with a presentation on the real economics behind the shale boom.

You don't get to see these three headliners at the same gig very often outside of either coast, so take advantage of them showing up at your front door just as we're about to start another chapter in the Dallas Drilling Scandal, with a City Plan Commission vote scheduled for March 21st. Be prepared.

Besides these great speakers, there are also lots of workshops:

Fracking 101

Community Organizing & Leadership Development

Pipelines, Compressor Stations and Other Infrastructure

Spokesperson training

Nonviolent Direct Action

A full two days. Nationally-known speakers. A bunch of workshops where you'll learn the things you need to know and meet people like yourself. All for only $50 bucks – and that includes lunch both days. Register here now. See you there.

Downwinders on the March in DC

DC downwindersDownwinders at Risk Chair Gary Stuard and board member Molly Rooke were two of about 40,000 marchers yesterday in what's being billed as the largest rally for climate change action in U.S. history. Aimed primarily at stopping the Keystone Pipeline project that's snaking its way through East Texas, the rally was the culmination of a campaign begun by Bil McKibben and his 350.org effort two years ago. Joining Gary and Molly were busloads of other Texans including Hilton Kelly, a well-known veteran of Port Arthur refinery fights, whose hometown is now the destination point for the pipeline.

Despite the showing yesterday, and the President's pledge to finally act on the issue in his second inaugural address, many observers still expect him to approve the pipeline. Among the most popular scenarios being tossed around in the blogosphere is one where Obama first regulates Greenhouse Gas pollution from coal plants, the largest stationary source of such pollution, and then, after the applause dies down, approves the Keystone pipeline. Today's New York Times lays out the "knotty decision" the President faces in either alienating base support among environmentalists, or making unions and Canada very angry.

A Dallas Drilling Scandal Primer

Garbage piling upThanks to everyone who turned out last Thursday for the (abbreviated) public hearing on the Trinity East "zombie" gas permits before the City Plan Commission. Our apologies to those of you who were not allowed to speak by the arbitrary too-soon ending of the hearing. It was one more example of a process gone off the rails when it comes to these permits.

It's now clear that what began as a neighborhood-based effort to fight off irresponsible urban gas drilling three years ago has now grown into not only a turning point for the entire Dallas environmental movement, but as of last week, into the largest Dallas City Hall scandal in years as well. There are suddenly lots of moving parts. Here's a quick summary of what we know as of today.

On Thursday morning, the Dallas Observer broke the story that in 2008 Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm signed a secret side agreement with Trinity East  that essentially turned City Hall into a lobbying machine for the company's gas permits. The first impact of that lobbying was a reversal of the no drill policy in Dallas parks. Only six months after city staff had told the Council and Park Board there would be no surface drilling in Dallas parks allowed, the side agreement Suhm negotiated with Trinity East assured the company that she and her staff were "reasonably confident" they could win permission to drill in parks for the company.

Many Dallas activists have speculated about such an agreement as the only way to explain why city staff seemed to be going out of its way to push through the Trinity East permits, including abruptly re-defining the current gas ordinance on the fly, ignoring or flouting precedents, and declining to bring the usual level of official scrutiny to bear. Suhm and city attorneys kept this document from public view even after years of opposition from neighborhood groups to drilling sites, including Trinity East's. At a time when every city staffer had an obligation to wear the Trinity East agreement on their sleeves, City Hall hid the fact they were working for the company to win its permit. Dallas Councilwoman Angela Hunt has prepared a detailed timeline of Suhm's deception.

Suhm declined to talk directly to the Observer, but instead issued a statement to the Morning News that said, in essence, she was shocked, shocked that anyone could think this side agreement with Trinity was a "back room" deal. Mayor Rawlings is standing by Suhm so far, issuing a statement of support late Thursday that emphasized the "non-binding" nature of the side deal that was "cut," as the Mayor so eloquently put it back in November.  The Observer's Jim Schutze had a take down of both of their official statements on Friday, saying "some stuff just won't spin." 

A growing chorus of groups and individuals are calling for Suhm to resign, as are some Council members like Hunt, and Scott Griggs. Her fate now seems linked to that of the Trinity East permits, since both seem tainted beyond redemption by the disclosure of the side deal. How can any resident or Council member trust what city staff says about the permits? How can any resident or Council member trust that Suhm won't sell them out again?

Meanwhile, the Observer has raised the possibility of Open Records Act violations by the City because it's pretty sure it asked for ALL documents related to the Trinity East permits. Citizens groups and individuals that have been turning in a constant flow of Open Records Act requests for the last three to four years might also have the same gripe.

But they'd have to take a number because four people, including Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck, Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Raymond Crawford of Dallas Residents for Responsible Drilling, and Marc McCord of frackDallas went down to the District Attorney's office and filed a criminal complaint against the City Plan Commission Chair on Wednesday, alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act prior to the January 10th vote to "reconsider" the Commission's denial of the permits. According to the complaint, Chair Joe Alcantar called members and lobbied them to vote for reconsideration in a practice called "daisy-chaining a quorum" that is explicitly against the law. If the charge is substantiated by an investigation, all subsequent decisions about the permits by the Commission could be invalidated. That would mean reverting back to the original December denial of the permits.

On the political front, John Carona, the Republican State Senator whose district includes the Elm Fork Soccer Complex, sent a letter to Mayor Rawlings, urging him to withdraw his support for the Gas Refinery and Compressor Station proposed for only 600 feet west of the Complex. Democrat State Representative Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft. Worth sent a similar letter, further isolating the Mayor politically.

In all, quite the "goat (act of procreation)", as the Observer's Brantley Hargrove labeled the whole Trinity East controversy last month.

What happens now?

Officially, the City Plan Commission put off any (legitimate or not) vote on the permits until its March 21st meeting. They have now specifically requested the Council deal with changing the current prohibitions against parkland and floodplain drilling before they're asked again to violate the law. So theoretically, the show now moves to the whole City Council, which has scheduled a 1:00 pm Wednesday, February 27th state-mandated public hearing on the city permanently removing park land from the city park system for drilling.

This same hearing has been scheduled twice before however, only to be canceled when the City Plan Commission didn't get around to doing what the Council couldn't bring itself to do first. Up to now the Mayor's strategy was to push the permits through the Plan Commission and Park Board to provide a cover for Council approval of drilling activity in parks and flood plains that's still not allowed. Apparently there's enough resentment about that among Plan Commission members for them to toss the hot potato back to the Mayor and Council. But it does so exactly as the Suhm memo hits and makes political support for the permits more tenuous.

We'll know soon whether the February 27th City Council hearing on turning over park lands to drilling is really on or not. Stay tuned.

Open Meetings Act Violation Filed Against Dallas Plan Commission Chair

(Dragnet(This release was sent out Wednesday afternoon…..)

(Dallas)—In the latest twist over the ordeal of what to do with old gas leases in Dallas, citizens have accused the Mayor’s appointee to the City Plan Commission of taking actions that may have resulted in a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act while trying to reverse a denial of gas drilling permits for the last of those leases.

A group of four individuals representing themselves and various citizen and environmental organizations filed an official complaint with the District Attorney’s office alleging that CPC Chair Joe Alcantar individually lobbied Plan Commissioners over the phone prior to the CPC’s January 10th meeting in order to win a rare “reconsideration” vote to grant permits for Trinity East’s three controversial gas drilling and production sites in Northwest Dallas.

Lawyers familiar with the statute say if that’s what happened, it could be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act known as “daisy-chaining.” Not only would the January 10th reconsideration vote itself be illegal, but any action resulting from that vote – like Thursday’s scheduled public hearing on the reconsideration – could also be illegal.

In a letter to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager Mary Suhm and City Attorney Tom Perkins, the group referred to the complaint, noting that at least three different Commissioners had independently confirmed that Mr. Alcantar, appointed by the Mayor, systematically called each of them to lobby for the favorable reconsideration vote.

“In this instance, we believe there’s a prima facie case that Mr. Alcantar met (via telephone) with members of the Plan Commission in number more than a quorum to discuss public business in private, the letter reads. “We believe this may constitute a criminal violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

The letter asks Mayor Rawlings to join the group in requesting a full investigation by the District Attorney’s office of the circumstances surrounding the January 10th vote. 

“As a result of our concerns, an official complaint, enclosed, has been filed with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. We want this matter fully investigated by an objective and independent third party. We ask that you join us in that call for a full investigation by the District Attorney.”

Members of the groups said that while they don’t know for certain if illegal activity took place, the allegations fit the profile of a City Hall that’s twisting the machinery of municipal government in order to get the result it wants.

“There’s no question that someone at City Hall has been tightening the screws on the City Plan Commission,” said Jim Schermbeck of the local clean air group Downwinders at Risk. “Whether that degenerated into the criminal behavior outlined in our complaint is for the District Attorney to discover.”

Besides Schermbeck, Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Raymond Crawford of Dallas Residents for Responsible Drilling, and Marc McCord of FracDallas all signed the complaint and the letter. They also all criticized the lack of transparency that has marked Dallas City Hall’s push for gas permits.

 “Ever since the original gas leases were signed in Dallas, City officials have retreated behind closed doors,” said Molly Rooke of the Dallas Sierra Club. “This is just another example of a back-room deal’ that affects every Dallas resident, but that no one sees until after the fact.”

Others in the group cited recent legal backflips by the City in what to call a proposed gas processing and compressor station facility just a few hundred feet from the new Elm Fork Soccer Complex. Last year it was a processing plant that would have required a special zoning district. This year, city attorneys say it’s only routine drilling equipment.

“The City is desperately pulling out all the stops in trying to get Trinity East’s gas permits approved,” said Zac Trahan of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “They’ve taken ridiculous positions and attempted parliamentary trickery, but this time their tactics may have gone too far.



Reporters have asked why we're not naming the Commissioners who described the Chair's actions. Here's why:

We don't believe anyone but the Chair is responsible for the illegal conduct and we don't want anyone else implicated. We'll talk about what we know under oath as part of an official investigation. If individual Commissioners want to speak to reporters on their own, that's their business, but we're not going to drag them into this just for publicity's sake.

Time to Push Back and Make Some History

pushingbackDallas Plan Commission Public Hearings on Trinity East Gas Permits, including the "Rawlings Refinery"

Thursday, 1:00 pm

6th Floor Dallas City Hall, City Council Chambers

When the Dallas Plan Commission held its January 10th vote to "reconsider" the denial of gas permits to Trinity East, it didn't allow any public testimony at all about the dangers posed by these proposed drilling and production sites.

Tomorrow it will. And we need you to come and add your body and your voice to this fight.

When the Mayor and City Manager first cooked up this scheme to ram through the last three gas permits in Dallas, they didn't expect to have any roadblocks. They scheduled a meeting five days before Christmas and thought they had it locked up.

They were wrong. You showed up anyway and the Plan Commission voted to deny the permits based on your impassioned pleas for public health and safety.

When City Hall didn't like the results of that vote, and pulled the "reconsideration" stunt in January, 100 of you showed up on a work day to shame the CPC publicly in a meeting that received a huge amount of media coverage.

Now they're holding the second public hearing on these gas permits. We need a larger show of strength to demonstrate we're gaining momentum

We need you to personally come and tell the Plan Commission why it's a bad idea to allow drilling in floodplains and parks and build a refinery next to the city's largest soccer complex where thousands of kids will be playing every weekend.

We know it's getting tiresome, but when you show up at these meetings and hearings, you're helping us win this fight.

Slowly, but surely, your concerns and questions about these Trinity East permits are weighing them down and making it harder for them to get rammed through.

For example, because of your work, we're about to see a bi-partisan call for the Mayor to reject the refinery permit near the Elm Fork Soccer complex. That news will be announced at tomorrow's press conference starting at 1:00 pm.

There's also more in the works challenging the process the City is using to keep these "zombie" permits alive.

The tide is turning. But you have to keep showing up.

Nothing can take the place of a room full of angry citizens. Tomorrow, don't just watch history on TV or read about it the next day. Make history.  Thanks.

Zombie Gas Permits on the March Again


Public (re)-Hearing on the Last Three Dallas Gas Sites.……including the newly-discovered "Rawlings Gas Refinery"

This Thursday
1:00 pm
Dallas City Hall

6th Floor
City Council Chambers

Press Conference followed by City Plan Commission Mtg

This is the "do-over" hearing demanded by the Mayor in order to win approval of these permits – after the first one in December resulted in denial.

Come and defend this victory or they'll steal it away from us.

Dallas Residents at Risk, the alliance of groups that we work with on this issue, will be holding a press conference at 1:00 pm – just like we did before the much-publicized January 10th reconsideration vote –  and then heading into the CPC meeting at 1:30. Show up early because we'll be talking about a surprising new development in this fight and bringing you up to date with the latest information.

It's important to demonstrate that opposition to these permits is growing, so if you haven't made it down to City Hall before, Thursday is the day to come.

If you're a regular, then you know how much warm bodies in the audience mean to the moment.

They would have been no news coverage on the 10th without all of us standing up and publicly "shaming" the CPC over its "reconsideration vote" in person. You can't do that by e-mail or petition. We need you there. We need you clapping for the good guys. We need you hissing the bad guys. We need you. There is no substitute.

Looking for material for your testimony? Here are some things we know now about these sites that we didn't when the CPC turned them down in December…..

* Neither the Park Board nor City Council ever voted to allow surface drilling in parks. In fact, city staff assured the City Council in 2008 that would be NO surface drilling in parks. So where did Trinity East get the idea it could have two of its drill sites on city park land (The newly-named Luna Vista Golf Course and near-by gun range)? That's a really good question that nobody at Dallas City Hall has attempted to answer.

* One of the Trinity East sites now contains a large gas refinery and compressor station in addition to a pad site for 20 wells. This facility will become the 10th largest air polluter in Dallas the moment it comes on line, releasing 75-100 tons of air pollution every year only 600 feet away from the City's new Elm Fork Soccer Complex on Walnut Hill.

* Last September, the City of Dallas denied a new permit to a rock crushing facility near the Elm Fork Soccer Complex because its 17 tons of annual air pollution was deemed too threatening for children's health. However, five months later, the city is advocating allowing the operation of a gas refinery and compressor station that is estimated to release some 75-100 tons of air pollution a year. Why is 17 tons of air pollution a health threat but 100 tons is OK? Another great question nobody at Dallas City Hall has answered.

* Trinity East knew when it signed its leases with the City that drilling in parkland and the floodplains was prohibited. So why is the City of Dallas still saying its afraid of a lawsuit by Trinity for backing out of the deal if the permits are denied?

We can win if we keep showing up and asking questions.
Please show up this Thursday.

Magical Mystery Tour: Then vs Now

Magical Mystery Tour BusDallas city staff are trying very hard to persuade the City Plan Commission to reverse their December 20th denial of the three Trinity East gas drilling and production sites.

So hard, they engineered a "reconsideration vote" to overturn that denial, now scheduled for 1:30 pm February 7th – next Thursday.

So hard, they're flip-flopping on established positions, misrepresenting the facts, and fabricating new definitions to avoid the truth.

So hard that they're resorting to the tired and true tactic of polluters and their flunkies everywhere: "Let's Take a Tour of the Site!"

So at 8 am on Thursday morning- tomorrow – members of the Plan Commission, under heavy escort by city staff, will meet at City Hall to board buses and take a tour of the Luna Vista Golf Course drill site, the gun range site near-by, and the refinery site near the Elm Fork soccer complex just west of Walnut Hill. Interested citizens will be along as well, but city staff has told them that they may or may not be able to ride on the tour bus with CPC members and staff. Too risky we suppose – what if someone wants to challenge the staff narrative? Is such a bus ride a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act? Good question. But Dallas City Hall hasn't been in the mood lately to observe the fussy legal niceties.

But the tour does give CPC members the chance to compress all the tricks and untruths of the gas lease controversy into a nice 3-hour package. For example:

Threat of a lawsuit from Trinity East for Not Alllowing Drilling in Parks or the Flood Plain

Then:  "When the city executed its lease with Trinity East, the words “park land” didn’t appear. The lease designated just five sites – none on parkland – as authorized drilling locations. Two sites that were on parkland were listed as ‘possible’ drilling sites, the same two locations now up for review. But city staff made it clear to the council that the company had no assurance that those sites would ever be available.” (Dallas Morning News, 2012).

Now: Trinity East says "prohibiting drilling and production in public parks is a complete reversal of the City's position when the leases were sold. In fact, two of the pending drill sites are on park lands (one adjacent to L.B. Houston Golf Course and one on the Gun Club). Not only were these sites advertised in the original RFP, but they were also specifically identified by city staff before the
leases were purchased. It will result in a breach of agreement. (2011 Trinity East Letter to Gas Task Force.

Surface Drilling on Park Land

Then: “There will be no drilling allowed on the surface of city of Dallas park land.” (2008 City of Dallas staff presentation to City Council)

Now: Dallas city staff say there will not only be surface drilling on city parkland allowed, but that city parkland will be permanently taken out of park use to allow for drilling.  There's a February 13th hearing on doing just that scheduled by the Dallas City Council.

Refineries and Compressor Stations

Then:  Under the current ordinance, compressor stations and refineries “would require a planned development district because no defined use; or must create a use in zoning districts.” (City Staff to Gas Task Force in 2012).

Now: Under the current ordinance, special zoning districts are not required for compressor stations and refineries. These are part of “normal well site production.” There is no definition of a compressor station or refinery that distinguishes it from normal well site production. (City of Dallas Staff, January 2013)

Citizens will be on the tour with fact sheets reminding the press, the CPC, and city staff themselves about these obvious contradictions. But's it up to you breathers, to remind them forcefully enough to keep the permits denied on the 7th. Keep those cards and letters coming in and be sure to show up for the CPC meeting at 1:30 pm next Thursday,

“That Deal is Cut”

An op-ed from today's Dallas Morning News…..

There’s a moment in Woody Allen’s Bananas when the newly empowered dictator goes from deliverer to deranged. “All children under 16 years old are now … 16 years old,” he blithely declares. “The official language is now Swedish.” We laugh because the decrees are at such odds with the facts.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is experiencing his own Bananas moment over old gas drilling leases and having similar luck imposing fantasy on the facts.

But he’s not letting that stop him. The City Plan Commission will hold a do-over vote Feb. 7 on gas permits sought by Trinity East because the first vote, which opposed the permits, wasn’t to the mayor’s liking.

The CPC began hearings on these permits in 2010 but stopped because members were asked to perform tasks — environmental, toxicological and engineering — that were far outside their job description as part-time citizen volunteers.

So City Hall froze all action on the permits, established a task force, let it meet for a year and issue recommendations for a new gas ordinance last spring, and then promptly ignored the results.

In November, the mayor unfroze the process, declaring that the pending gas permits would be decided by the same inadequately equipped CPC, using the same inadequate 2010 rules. After three years, Rawlings has managed to lead us to the same inadequate spot where we started in 2010. Only now, according to him, it’s adequate.

But some things have changed. A Trinity East permit that in 2010 was limited to drilling is now a huge new gas refinery-compressor station that will handle toxic hydrogen sulfide and emit at least 75 tons a year of air pollution — within 600 feet of the city’s largest outdoor recreation center.

How do we know this? Because citizens went to investigate the site plans at City Hall — something no city employee, Plan Commission member or City Council member had done.

That’s a problem because the old, used-to-be-inadequate-but-now-adequate gas ordinance states that such facilities need their own zoning districts. That isn’t part of the current permit request.

It’s also a problem because the chair of the city’s gas task force never wanted compressor stations within the city limits. They emit too much pollution.

Now City Hall is scrambling to solve the problem — linguistically. Staff says that what they defined as processing plants and compressor stations last month are no longer defined as such this month.

In other words, “Everything that was a compressor station … is now not a compressor station.”

There’s also the question of how a proposal sold as involving no surface encroachment on city park land became a policy that allows rigs in the middle of city parks and taking park land out of circulation forever. But there’s method to this madness.

It appears that Dallas City Hall made a deal with Trinity East to drill on city park land and floodplains even though no such thing was possible under current law.

“When we took the lease, we had that discussion with the city,” Trinity East manager Steve Fort told the Dallas Observer. “It was made very clear that adding that as a permitted use would not be an issue.” Or, as Mayor Rawlings later said bluntly to reporters in December, “that deal was cut.”

It’s in service to this seedy deal that the mayor and City Hall are distorting the entire municipal bureaucracy for the benefit of a single gas company.

Rawlings should recognize that he’s abetting, as Allen’s Bananas character says, “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” He should withdraw support of the Trinity East permits. He should pass a protective gas ordinance that will process gas permits correctly. And he should demand resignations from anyone at City Hall who sold public assets to the highest bidder when those assets weren’t up for sale.

Ed Meyer is president of the Fox Hollow Homeowners Association and may be contacted at mcnalliance@yahoo.com. Jim Schermbeck is director of Downwinders at Risk and may be contacted at info@downwindersatrisk.org.