Monday, August 22, 2011
Dear Mayor and Council Members:
The CITIZENS of Ft. Worth are not pleased with both the lack of advance notice for Tuesday's Gas Drilling Workshop, as well as the misleading dates and lack of opportunity for citizen participation.
The following facts will illustrate our concerns:
1. In previous information issued by the City, and in the City News (e-newsletter) issued in July, it was noted that this Gas Drilling Workshop would be part of the series of Budget hearings, and the date listed was August 30th.
Not only was the date moved UP a good 2 weeks, but the citizens were given absolutely NO advance notice of this change. (NOTE the emailed copy below that I received, showing that it was sent by the City on MONDAY evening, 8/15!)
Obviously, there were folks who probably did find out over the weekend (after the Council's Agenda's are posted on the previous Friday); however, due to the fact that this was scheduled for a DAYTIME meeting, it severely limited advance planning or contact opportunities for the CITIZENS.
NOTE: Citizens are currently preoccupied with returning from vacations, and getting their children ready to start school this coming week.
I will compliment Asst. City Mgr. Fernando Costa on the apparent very comprehensive lineup of speakers and presenters. We would have appreciated more ADVANCE notice of these presentations so that CITIZENS could have had time to contact the Mayor, Council and Staff with the questions that WE wanted
addressed with these critically important subjects.
Any feedback and information shared by the CITIZENS will still be important, but the optimum timing for conversations with each of you would have been prior to Tuesday's Workshop. May I remind each of you that YOU are focused on these issues because it is your JOB....... the citizens are not checking these sites 24/7, and deserve NO LESS than at TWO WEEKS NOTICE when critically important issues like the gas drilling.(and related budget items) ..... which impacts EVERYONE...... are up for discussion and decisions are being made.
2. Below is the copy from your "Budget Workshop - Day 2 Recap" of the upcoming dates for the four public Budget hearings. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? There's only ONE evening meeting, and this last week's Council meeting was also a daytime meeting! To schedule only ONE evening meeting and make it just ONE week before you are going to VOTE on the Budget is totally inadequate lead time for citizens to participate.
Obviously, it's too late for this Tuesday's meeting to be changed. However, we believe that the Mayor and Council should consider either adding another EVENING meeting for Aug. 30th ( a day workshop was originally scheduled for that date), or figure out some way that there will be an additional opportunity for an EVENING meeting (far in advance of your Sept. 20th vote) when Mayor, Council and Staff will be present. We are aware that folks can submit their comments via email, but it is not the same.
(from the City's website):
City Council will vote on the final budget Sept. 20, following four public hearings:
10 a.m. Aug. 16
10 a.m. Aug. 23
7 p.m. Sept. 13
10 a.m. Sept. 20
3. The GAS DRILLING issues, as you realized from your Tuesday Workshop, are far-reaching and not ones with "simple solutions." There are very serious threats to the health and safety of our NEIGHBORHOODS that need to be addressed. You were able to hear and see presentations from representatives from these various entities, and know that there are changes that need to be made in both the Gas Drilling Ordinance, as well as Budget allocations.
In a year when the City of Ft. Worth is facing another LARGE BUDGET DEFICIT, it is time to face the reality of creating an EIF - Environmental Impact Fee - that will be assessed to ALL GAS DRILLING, PIPELINE AND RELATED COMPANIES doing business in Ft. Worth. Those fees should be placed in a separate Escrow fund , to be used ONLY to pay for things like the Air Quality Study, as well as BASELINE testing of any sites proposed for gas drilling & fracking, pipelines, compressors, storage tanks, and any related equipment or activity.
NCTCA has long advocated for this Environmental Impact Fee; it is a justified fee that the INDUSTRY should bear, NOT the citizens. We also believe that revenues from such a fee should be used to REIMBURSE the City accounts for the recently completed Air Quality Study. To pay the $1 MILLION-plus out of the Gas Drilling Revenues is to ROB the citizens and our City treasury of funds that should be directed to other much needed items....... oh, say, like POOLS or LIBRARIES!
4. As you can see from the noted items above, Friends, there is a PRESSING need to address and resolve these issues...... and not a lot of time to do so! For example: In case no one's noticed, WE ARE IN A SEVERE/ EXTREME DROUGHT, AND TO CONTINUE TO GIVE THE GAS DRILLING INDUSTRY CARTE BLANCHE FOR WATER USAGE WHEN CITIZENS ARE BEING REQUIRED TO CUT BACK IS NOT ACCEPTABLE! Cities like Grand Prairie, Southlake and others have realized the URGENCY, and have issued WATER restrictions on the gas drilling acitivities for the duration of the severe/ extreme drought conditions. This issue impacts not only our CITY BUDGET, but also our Water Department and our "precious jewel" - Trinity Park ( Chesapeake has huge pipelines running through our gorgeous trees that are draining water from the Trinity River as I write this!)
Cowtown is seeing many farmers and ranchers in the area selling off large numbers of their herds due to the drought. We cannot wait til we get to an EMERGENCY situation and run OUT of water to address this issue!
You are proposing - FOR THE THIRD YEAR - another RATE HIKE ON OUR WATER BILLS, which, in essence, amounts to a TAX. The City should be RAIISING the fees on an industry that it using our TREATED WATER for fracking, and not being limited in their usage in any way! This is UNACCEPTABLE, and requires a change in the Ordinance, as well as City policy.
The Tarrant County Water Board has recently warned that they anticipate that as of Sept. 1st, ALL cities in the County will be placed under mandatory water restrictions during this drought period. CITIZENS have yet to hear how you plan to address both the fiscal and the physical issues related to WATER used by the shale gas industry.
Mayor and Council Members: I've cited THREE main areas of concern:
1. Scheduling another EVENING public hearing for the Budget.
2. Addressing the critically important issues, as outlined in your Tuesday
Workshop, at a public hearing to allow feedback from the CITIZENS. (and including many of these same presenters to answer questions).
3. Creating a written POLICY NOW related to the WATER usage by the gas drilling industry during this SEVERE/ EXTREME DROUGHT period, and, especially, if water restrictions are required of the citizens. We ask that you consider these three points, and make public announcements related to each, with advance notice to the citizens, on how you plan to address and resolve these issues.
We know that our new Mayor Price has had to "hit the floor running" (or, "peddle FAST on her bike"!), and that's required immediately jumping into the Budget challenges. All of the above issues require both TRANSPARENCY with the Citizens, and a willlingness to face and make the HARD decisions necessary for positive solutions that will protect the health and safety of the citizens and neighborhoods.
NCTCA - the North Central Texas Communities Alliance - continues to stand ready to help and serve as a RESOURCE as you make these hard decisions. Please feel free to contact me anytime to discuss these matters further.
With best regards,
Esther McElfish - President
NCTCA - North Central TX Communities Alliance