Friday, February 5, 2010

Flower Mound Says "No Fracking Way"

Written by Ladd Biro
Thursday, 04 February 2010 21:10
The sleepy Town of Flower Mound is under siege from a deep-pocketed army of 21st Century robber barons, and many of the town’s elected officials have hoisted a white flag high above Town Hall.

For roughly three years, few residents of this quiet suburb paid much attention as gas-drilling rigs periodically sprouted from huge tracts of ranchland along the western edges of town.

After all, the towers were few and far between, and Flower Mound had a well-earned reputation as a family-friendly residential community unreceptive to commercial and retail development. Let Southlake, Grapevine and Highland Village become shopping Meccas. We’ll stick to our horses and buffalos, our quiet restaurants and shops, and our modest traffic.

Then, seemingly overnight, the gas wells started creeping closer to our peaceful neighborhoods and exemplary schools. Huge tanker trucks began rumbling down residential streets. And kids started getting sick.

The news traveled fast, prompting the locals to start asking questions. But answers were elusive. Representatives from the drilling firms, most notably The Williams Companies, smiled and assured everyone that they had only the best interests of the community in mind. But they refused to address the tough questions, while making it patently clear they had no intention of slowing down.

Though the numbers keep changing, Williams plans to drill at least 100 more wells throughout Flower Mound over the next few years, with many of the new pad sites in close proximity to homes, schools and businesses.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jody Smith and her allies on the Town Council fiddle while Flower Mound is systematically pillaged.

Despite increasingly strident pleas from constituents to tap the brakes and assess the short- and long-term consequences of their actions, a firm majority of the council stubbornly votes in lockstep on behalf of the gas interests. On January 21, roughly 600 Flower Mound citizens packed a Town Council hearing to voice their concerns with the latest sell-out to Williams. An overwhelming majority of those present voiced their opposition to the proposed ordinances, just as a similarly vociferous group had advocated a temporary moratorium on new drilling permits at a December 17 hearing. In both cases, three of the five councilmembers thumbed their noses at the irate crowd and sided with the drillers.

Mayor Smith and her pro-drilling cohorts offered various defenses for disregarding the will of their constituents. They claimed to be prohibited from preventing drilling within the town, citing the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution. They dismissed as overblown “scare tactics” many of the health and safety concerns raised by their opponents. They worried aloud about the inevitability of lawsuits brought by Williams should the town dare stand in its way. And, in true political fashion, they insisted upon having more “facts” before they would reconsider their position.

Perhaps most insulting, the officials inexplicably ignored the words of caution offered by the mayors of several nearby towns, including DISH, Texas, which have been grappling with drilling issues far longer than Flower Mound.

Nothing, it seemed, could dissuade the Council from moving forward, leaving most observers scratching their heads in disbelief. In fact, Mayor Smith and Councilmember Jean Levenick each have leased their mineral rights to Williams, which has forced the officials to recuse themselves from certain votes tied directly to the company. A loophole allowed them to skirt the strict, legal definition of “conflict of interest” in the key votes held on January 21. However, many questioned if their actions passed the smell test.

Yet, as concerns abound about ethical conflicts within the Council, even more crucial questions centered on Williams’ conduct in the area remain unanswered. Among the most significant – More>>>