In a 5-2 split vote, the Denton City Council agreed to continue its talks with EagleRidge Energy, extending retroactively for another 30 days to March 4 a “standstill agreement” that expired at the end of January.
Council members Dalton Gregory and Jim Engelbrecht voted against the measure, and Mayor Mark Burroughs, Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp and council members James King, Kevin Roden and Joey Hawkins voted in favor of the extension.
The vote allows King and Roden to continue exploring whether the city and the energy company can find some common ground in the controversy over rights it holds with its leases in the city limits.
More than 125 residents came out to protest the additional negotiations, calling for a moratorium instead. Residents called the standstill agreement a “farce” and the city’s drilling rules — which still allow drilling and hydraulic fracturing within 250 feet of homes — and enforcement of them “a joke.”
One person spoke in favor of the extension, saying it was important to be fair to the industry. EagleRidge officials did not address the council.
Residents from the Southridge area neighborhoods, who experienced problems with loud noise after EagleRidge began reworking wells near South Lakes Park, joined residents from the Vintage and Bonnie Brae neighborhoods in the protests that have become increasingly strident with city leaders in recent weeks.
One Southridge area resident,Rebecca Lindrose, told the council that she didn’t understand the city’s decision to allow the company to continue with existing wells while temporarily halting future drilling.
“My experience with cows out of the barn is you go out and round them up,” Lindrose said.
The original standstill agreement came in late November, after the city had sued the company for violating its ordinances. A Denton district judge refused to grant the city a temporary restraining order and the city dropped the suit. Instead, the city agreed to allow EagleRidge to continue working 12 wells on pad sites between South Bonnie Brae Street and U.S. Highway 377 as the city and the company continued talks for the next two months.
EagleRidge contends it has the right to continue working the existing wells because permits were already approved for those sites.
In the standstill agreement, EagleRidge reserved its rights at the Pitner gas well site on Ryan Road, which has sparked a related controversy. A housing developer wants to build around that well site and the City Council granted him a zoning change that will allow more homes to be built close in to existing gas well sites.
Burroughs told the crowd that there would be no new wells allowed under the extension.
The council heard additional testimony from the crowd calling into question the city’s willingness to enforce any current rules or investigate concerns at the drill sites, including a reluctance by city police to respond to noise and odor complaints, which some consider the first indication of a possible, more serious problem.
One resident from the Vintage area neighborhoods is a retired employee from the city’s engineering department. Mark King told the council that he was particularly concerned with the long water line being used to circulate water to the drill sites.
He observed leaks in the line that he reported to the city. He told the council that the leaks weren’t investigated for five days, long enough for the leaking water to reach a creek that flows into Lewisville Lake.
“Sixteen years ago, my department would have shut that down; we wouldn’t have stood for it,” King said. “Have we really strayed that far from safety?”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
IN OTHER ACTION
During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:
• Reappointed Robin Ramsay as presiding judge for municipal court for a base annual salary of $114,324.
• Awarded a public works contract to build the Pecan Creek Water Reclamation Plant Administration Building to Schmoldt Construction for $1.3 million; a design contract for traffic signal design and construction plans for 30 intersections to Binkley & Barfield/C&P to $550,500; to Hufcor Texas Group for a moveable wall system in the Public Safety Training Facility for $330,530; to LCG Consulting for energy market modeling software for $309,000; to Tri-Flo International for a special wheel washer at the landfill for $125,052.
• Awarded three-year contracts to multiple suppliers for electricity distribution hardware for $3.8 million; to LabWare for a laboratory information management system for $72,840; to Bound Tree Medical for EMS medical supplies for $375,000; to Structural and Steel Products for traffic signal poles for $2.6 million.
• Authorized the city manager to offer $775,000 for about 75 acres on Country Club Road for a storm water detention facility and about $35,700 for about 3 acres along East McKinney Street for power line expansion.
• Established term limits for the board of directors of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 2.