City Hall

Chaos as Plan Commission Votes to Give Trinity River Floodplain Fracking Another Look

Any attempt to explain the goat-fuck at that Dallas Plan Commission meeting Thursday afternoon, I fear, may not do it justice, but here goes: A few weeks ago commissioners concluded that approving a special-use permit to allow driller Trinity East to hydraulically fracture the Trinity River floodplain wasn't such a hot idea (plus, it's not technically allowed by law). Perhaps, the commissioners thought, the City Council should first decide whether or how Dallas should proceed with urban drilling.

Unfortunately, the commission did deliver Trinity East's request a killing blow to the head that way, and like a zombie it rose to reclaim its place on the agenda today.

Over the holidays, somebody musta gotten a talkin' to. See, Dallas took millions of Trinity East's money back in 2007, which came with some sort of understanding that, somewhere on down the road, city code would be amended to allow drilling on a floodplain that is also technically parkland. We don't know what the deal looks like, but we do know City Hall is afraid of getting served with a fat lawsuit. We also know that a denial at plan commission makes it tough to get the permit through the City Council. So, here we were Thursday, in stuffed council chambers that smelled of warm humans. Two of the prominent votes against the SUP were missing. One, commissioner Paul Ridley, had to be out of town for some reason. The other, Mike Anglin, was home sick.

The vote-math had clearly just changed, to Trinity East's benefit. As the meeting got under way, assistant city attorney John Waters took to the podium to explain that, absolutely, everything going on here today is on the up-and-up, legally speaking. No funny business here. And certainly no requirement to hear from the citizenry a second time. City Council members Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt and Sandy Greyson, we noted Wednesday, disagreed. In fact, they sent plan commission chair Joe Alcantar a strongly worded letter, imploring him not to push the motion to reconsider or, at the very least, to wait until the public could be notified and all commissioners could attend. The vote against the drilling permits was a resounding 11 to 1 in December, they noted.

"I think we're being asked to reconsider our votes because a denial requires more votes to pass the City Council and there are worries of litigation," plan commissioner Sally Wolfish said Thursday. "These are issues that properly lie in the City Council, not the [city plan commission]. Our job is to look at land use and not legal and political ramifications."

Gloria Tarpley echoed her sentiments, and it became clear that the commissioners would not vote on granting the permit Thursday. Instead, they agreed unanimously to reconsider Trinity East's application at the commission's February 7 meeting. And with that, match struck tinder. Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, a reliable rabble-rouser, yelled, "Who's in favor? Who's opposed?" And nearly the entire chamber stood, shouting, "Shame!" and clutching aloft hand-drawn signs bearing the very same message, or, alternately, "SHAM." Perhaps they ran out of room and figured the word was apt?

Almost as one, the commissioners stood and indignantly shuffled out of the chambers, not to reconvene for 20 minutes or so. Dallas police cleared the room of sign wielders, and Schermbeck wound up in the parking lot. The room was all but emptied. The commissioners gradually filed back in to carry on the more mundane business of the day.

Said an older fellow, chortling and shaking his head in disbelief, "I just want them to approve my three-car garage."

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Brantley Hargrove