A few weeks ago, as you'll no doubt recall, Angela Hunt called for the formation of a gas drilling task force that would consist of no fewer than 10 people, among them experts well versed in the subject of fracking, neighborhood residents impacted by XTO Energy's requests to drill near Hensley Field and Joe Pool Lake and EPA and TCEQ reps. For starters. Wrote Hunt in that memo to her council colleagues -- among then Dave Neumann, who'd promised a task force but never delivered -- "It is critical that we move forward in creating a public taskforce to fully evaluate the environmental, health, and safety impact of gas drilling in our city and to propose changes to the city's gas drilling ordinance."
Moments ago, Chris Heinbaugh, Mayor Dwaine Caraway's not-quite-chief of staff, passed along a two-sentence memo the mayor sent to the council this afternoon, in which Caraway says he's asked City Manager Mary Suhm to "place a discussion about the formation of a gas drilling task force on the Briefing Agenda for April 20, 2011. I have requested that staff's briefing include background on the subject, potential options we might pursue and legal issues related to this topic."
Caraway then told Unfair Park he hasn't spoken with Hunt about her proposal, and insisted her proposal "will not be the main topic of discussion" at next month's meeting.
"We need make sure the citizens' concerns are addressed," he says. "And the fact there's a great interest, and the fact we want to make sure safety is always considered first, is the reason I thought we had better put it on the agenda. But I am not certain there will be a task force. We will discuss the possible formulation of one. That will be a joint decision as to which way we go, but it's my responsibility as mayor to adhere or be open to discussing all sides of an issue."
After Hunt turned in her initial memo on February 24, she found a handful of colleagues to sign on to her proposal: Pauline Medrano, Tennell Atkins, Vonciel Jones Hill and Carolyn Davis. Five signatures, of course, triggers an agenda item. They wanted the item to go on the April 6 agenda, but Heinbaugh says it had to go later because of a 30-day-after-submitting-to-council rule.
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Hunt says she's "not married" to her initial demands for a 10-member task force, but she does want a task force: "We do need one, and we have to have one."
"I can tell you we owe it to the citizens of Dallas to address this openly and publicly, and a task force will allow us to do this," she says. "We should really learn from the surrounding communities who have been dealing with the issue longer than Dallas has, and talking with them it's clear a task force that's transparent and that provides a voice for residents is essential in addressing these critical health and safety issues.
"What I tried to do was provide a starting point, a conversation and to lay out a task force that was, I think, well-formed and well-balanced based on what we've heard from other communities. But there's certainly room for improvement. But whatever we do has to engage residents and not be solely made up of council members or government officials. It's critical we make this an open process."
"We're going to discuss gas drilling in general and the next step and where we should go and what safety measures we should take," Caraway adds. "I think it will be an open discussion. Each council member will have the say in the formulation of where we go and what we do. It may not be [Hunt's 10-member] task force. It may be five members. Who knows the formulation. That will be a discussion had by the Dallas City Council, and what we come up with and agree to is what we'll move forward with."