City Hall

Plan Commission Punts Floodplain Fracking Proposal To City Council, Where They Might Finally Have To Make a Decision

If you could make it through the interminable hours of debate regarding the virtues of video boards; the dire necessity of liquoring up establishments zoned dry; and what sounded like a monolithic Oak Lawn apartment building, something interesting did in fact transpire during a Plan Commission meeting: a zoning request for Dallas' first natural gas wells.

These wouldn't be just any natural gas wells. These would be sunk into the Trinity River's floodplain, technically on parkland. Both of those things are prohibited by current city code. Meanwhile, after more than a year of study, the City Council has yet to promulgate a new drilling ordinance that might or might not bring these wells into compliance.

This put commissioners in a decidedly awkward situation as they listened to Trinity East rep Dallas Cothrum make the case for drilling, while a parade of incredulous citizens, Downwinders at Risk's Jim Schermbeck among them, speak loudly in opposition.

The arguments dragged on for hours but essentially boiled down to this:

Schermbeck: You clearly don't know what the hell you're talking about, so for the love of God, don't approve this SUP request.

Cothrum: Look, everybody, this area we want to drill is a shitty, industrial area that neither you nor anyone you know will ever have any reason to visit.

Plan Commission: (looking at photos of potential drill sites) Yes, as far as potential drill sites go, they don't get shittier or more uninhabited than these.

Yet this spit of land's apparent status as industrial hellhole was not enough to move the commissioners to approve a zoning request for drilling when the city council has yet to resolve how exactly that should be done. Tony Hinojosa, whose represents District 6, which includes the area to be fracked, put a motion on the table to approve. Sally Wolfish seconded. Paul Ridley thought the whole idea was kind of nuts. "I don't think we are in any position to authorize permits at a time when doing so is contrary to city ordinance....This should be addressed by the city council -- elected officials -- not us."

Gloria Tarpley seemed a little pissed about the position into which the commission had been placed. "I am uncomfortable and not happy at all about having to make a decision in the absence of a new ordinance. That is troubling to me."

Hinojosa's motion failed ignominiously. I caught sight of councilman Scott Griggs on my way out. "This was a major victory," he said as he took the stairs out of council chambers. I asked him what questions he would have asked of the would-be frackers. How would he make his decision? He grinned and said, "I'll get my chance in a few weeks."

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Brantley Hargrove