As the Denton City Council regrouped Tuesday, so did many of the residents affected by new gas wells going in along Bonnie Brae Street.
The City Council met in closed session for about 90 minutes late Tuesday afternoon with city attorneys and lawyer Terry Morgan, who has been retained by the city in its battle to defend its new gas well drilling ordinance.
After the meeting, the council updated the city’s new gas drilling ordinance to specify the sequence of permits for operators.
From now on, operators must start the permit process with the gas well inspection division. City Attorney Anita Burgess called the move a clarification of the new ordinance, rather than a substantial change.
The move came after the city withdrew a lawsuit less than a week after it filed against EagleRidge Operating and EagleRidge Energy. When filing the suit, the city sought a temporary injunction against new wells the company is drilling near Bonnie Brae and Vintage Boulevard. But District Judge L. Dee Shipman denied the injunction.
During the hearing, EagleRidge showed a permit it had received from the city’s fire department.
Fire Marshal Laura Behrens told the council Tuesday that the fire department inspects a property before it issues permits required under the city’s fire code.
Council member Dalton Gregory told the rest of the council that it made sense to him that a project should go through the city’s planning department and other city reviews before a proper fire inspection can occur.
Council member Kevin Roden said he didn’t consider the move a change to the city’s ordinance, since he believed it clarifies what the council had intended all along.
Mark Grawe, executive vice president of EagleRidge Energy, said that while he had not yet been able to read the changes closely, he wasn’t concerned about the new sequence affecting his company’s operations.
He called the fire department’s inspections an important piece of the company’s safety plan.
“We file our MSDS [material safety data sheets] and emergency evacuation plans with them,” Grawe said.
Residents of neighborhoods along Bonnie Brae and Vintage gathered at Denton Fire Station No. 7 on Tuesday evening, filling the chairs and lining the walls of the community room to discuss again problems of fumes, lights and noises coming from the drill sites.
This time, instead of hearing from the city and the operator, residents heard from representatives of the Denton Drilling Advisory Group, who brought the former mayor of Dish, Calvin Tillman, and Sharon Wilson, an organizer with Earthworks, a national nonprofit that works with communities affected by oil and gas development, to help.
During the meeting, one couple reported that an access road to one of the drill sites runs along their back fence. They said their windows rattle frequently and the truck traffic kicks up dust and dirt that lands in their yard. In addition, they have noticed many small cracks in the walls and foundation of the house.
Advisory group representative Adam Briggle brought a copy of the original special use permit that was granted in 2003 to the previous operator of a well there.
EagleRidge has written to the city that it generally considers its development rights, as the new owner of many old wells in Denton, as vested, although it has not made an application with the city for such vested rights for the Bonnie Brae sites, as required by the ordinance.
Residents wondered aloud why the city wasn’t fining the company, or revoking the old permit, since that permit has conditions, too.
The special use permit is a zoning classification, and violating its conditions can come with a maximum $2,000 penalty.
Those conditions include adequate measures to prevent odors, fumes, dust, noise and vibration.
Directional lighting also is not permitted to disturb neighboring properties, something that one resident, Dave Miller, said he had regularly complained about.
Council member Jim Engelbrecht told the crowd that he wasn’t at liberty to say what the city would do next, since it involved discussions with the city’s attorneys, but he assured them that a good portion of the council’s closed session deliberations involved enforcement matters.
Tillman told the crowd that if the city were to say nothing could be done for them, that should be unacceptable.
“If you’re like me, you spent your life savings on your home — it’s worth fighting for,” Tillman said. “Do you feel safe in your house? You should.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.