Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Fort Worth Eighth Avenue drilling hearing delayed
A source close to the process confirmed this evening that Chesapeake contacted the city and asked for a postponement.
If you were planning to be in the Fort Worth Council chambers on July 8 for the high-impact hearing on the Eighth Avenue drilling site, your evening just opened up. A source close to the process confirmed this evening that Chesapeake contacted the city and asked for a postponement.
What this means remains unclear right now, however this doesn’t seem to be a sudden Road to Damascus moment on the part of Chesapeake, this is just RealPolitik. The word going around was that the votes weren’t there for Chesapeake, and we aren’t talking a 5-4 vote. It was going to be a clear majority, if not a unanimous vote, against the permit.
This issue has gotten too hot for the Council and no one, not even Chesapeake’s BFF Mayor Mikey, was willing to stick his neck out when Council chambers would be overflowing with hundred of pissed off residents of Ryan Place, Fairmount, Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley neighborhoods. They were already setting up shuttle bus service to take people to the meeting — not a good sign for Chesapeake.
However, what will happen next is complicated and convoluted.
I’m told that Bill Davis, the owner of the Fort Worth & Western Railroad, is looking at the expiration of his lease with Chesapeake in August, so there is some urgency to make this site happen.
As a result, there has already been some saber-rattling. An email I received from the Berkeley neighborhood association said that Davis indicated that if the site is not permitted, “he will exercise his rights under his ‘heavy industrial’ zoning to maximize the use of the land. Some of his options are to build a ‘transloader station,’ which is an area where cargo is taken from rail cars and loaded onto large trucks; to install a rail switching station to relieve some of the train traffic congestion currently occurring downtown (Tower 55); to build tanks for oil storage; or to dig a limestone pit. Many of those options would also preclude use of the tracks for commuter rail. All would bring increased noise and pollution to our area. None of these uses would require much in the way of zoning or permitting.”
How realistic is this scorched-earth scenario? I’m told by several people that this is unlikely, but things are moving so quickly and changing so rapidly, that I don’t really believe anything can be ruled out yet. And the really crazy thing is this isn’t all gas drillers vs. neighborhoods, there is a healthy measure of Chesapeake vs. XTO in the mix as well. I’ve heard some speculation that Chesapeake would deny XTO the right to drill under the Fort Worth & Western property along Eighth Avenue to allow the folks in Berkeley and Mistletoe to “develop their minerals” from drilling sites east of Eighth Avenue. I’ve also heard heavy speculation that XTO is anxious to sign Davis when his lease with Chesapeake runs out.
Although next steps remain ambiguous, it is clear that Fort Worth has a serious problem with a lack of any comprehensive plan on urban gas drilling. What is transpiring at a glacial pace on the gas drilling task force right now is not developing a comprehensive plan, it is manufacturing political cover for Mayor Mikey and the gas drilling interests. At the end of the process, they will be able to say that they took action, listened to the neighborhoods and implemented a plan to “protect the quality of life in Fort Worth.” But in reality, this entire exercise doesn’t solve anything. As long as Fort Worth lacks a true strategy for drilling sites, pipeline corridors and traffic routes, we will have Eighth Avenues over and over again. The next one is shaping up with the TCU drilling site and if you thought Eighth Avenue brought out the worst in people, TCU will make it look like the teacup ride at Disneyland.
UPDATE: This just in from a loyal reader: “Information about Mr. Davis’ site being zoned “heavy” industrial is incorrect. The Dairy-Pak building directly East of Berkeley — the empty building with a large for lease sign on it — is zoned “light industrial.” The other area around the building is zoned “PD”, which is planned development. With a PD zoning designation, you have to submit exactly you want to build in your zoning permit application. For example, if you want to zone your land for a mixed-use mid-rise condo, your zoning application has to specify exactly that. So, the question that arises is what exactly is contained in Bill Davis’ PD permit? Some feedback I received indicated the following: everything in “I” (light industrial) and passenger rail activities, and some other rail operation language. Light Industrial zoning certainly does allow some things that residents probably wouldn’t like, but it’s not exactly a lime pit. In fact this description falls under heavy industrial usage.”
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