The following is a column by Ladd Biro, a small business owner and supporter of Flower Mound Cares, a group that organized to stop a natural gas containment facility in a Dallas suburb. The Centralized Containment Facility, was proposed for a site near an elementary school and dozens of suburban homes. It would have allowed the Williams gas company to pipe in “produced water” containing toxics from gas wells in the area. Residents expressed concerns about toxic air emissions, the undisclosed composition of the fluids, the integrity of the pipes running through neighborhoods and the proximity of these industrial operations to residential areas.

When the City Council, two members of which receive gas well royalties, refused to listen to these concerns or to enact a moratorium until more could be learned, voters turned out in record numbers last weekend to elect a new slate of candidates that promised to scrutinize gas drillers more closely. Biro writes about his hopes and concerns for the new council of the town of 60,000, which is just one of many across the nation facing encroachment as gas and oil companies tap the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast and other veins of gas in the West.

By Ladd Biro
Flower Mound Cares

Ladd

Ladd Biro

It’s morning again in Flower Mound.

Today, the air feels a little crisper. The water tastes a little purer. Our town feels a little safer.

People are smiling more. Blood pressures no longer escalate while driving along FM 2499. Election signs disappeared virtually overnight and, thankfully, they weren’t replaced with “For Sale” signs.

A record turnout for municipal elections produced a landslide of historic proportions. The people have spoken, and this time, they couldn’t be ignored. And just like that, optimism reigns again in Flower Mound.

The gracious, unflappable Mayor-elect, Melissa Northern, accepted a concession call from her predecessor, Jody Smith, without a hint of bitterness in her voice. Her running mates, Al Filidoro and Steve Lyda, praised the tireless efforts of a mobilized citizenry without kicking their opponents.

It’s morning again in Flower Mound, and we are well on our way to healing a divided town.

That won’t be easy, though, after the opposition waged such a dirty campaign. Even up to Election Day itself, when postcards from Mayor Smith arrived in mailboxes throughout Wellington and Bridlewood – two centers of overwhelming opposition to her pro-drilling stance – advising residents to vote in Bartonville! It was a final, desperate ploy intended to suppress turnout by an incumbent who simply refused to play fair.

For these and other well-documented transgressions, Smith and her surrogates must be held accountable. Filing incomplete financial disclosure forms, deliberately misrepresenting opponents’ stated positions and distributing inflammatory communications – including letters, signs and web sites, often shielded by anonymity – have no place in this town.

Let’s not forget that the next election is just a year from now, when three council seats will be in play. If these unethical and allegedly illegal campaign tactics go unpunished now, you can be sure we’ll see them again.

The elections have likewise sent an emphatic message to the drillers operating in our town: You don’t get to set the agenda any longer. Flower Mound’s SMARTGrowth Master Plan is back in full effect.

The Northern-led Town Council, which will be dominated by representatives of the people, not the gas industry, has made crystal clear its intention to enact the six-month moratorium on centralized waste water collection facilities and related pipelines demanded by 6,000 petition signers.

Keystone Exploration, Williams Production and the other drillers that worked so hard to elect their lease-holders to council would be wise to avoid taking any preemptive action to undermine those efforts. They’ve just seen what happens when they try to play hardball in this town.

Williams recently announced the hiring of a new PR flack to enhance its local communications efforts. That’s just swell – we’ll miss Kelly Swan and his charming one-way banter; but the company would be better served by diverting its resources from its army of publicists, lobbyists, lawyers and former councilmen-turned representatives (who failed to overcome a grassroots operation orchestrated primarily via Facebook) to investing in operational best practices.

That should begin with wastewater recycling. As luck would have it, two of the top companies in the business are already operating here. Fountain Quail, the recognized leader in the industry, has been treating Devon Energy’s flowback water in the Barnett Shale for years, preserving hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce North Texas water. Ecosphere, another respected recycler, offers similar environmentally responsible services.

Other best practices, such as 24-hour pad-site monitoring and vapor recovery systems, may soon be mandated. And hopefully, the era of rubber-stamped variances is over.

I also urge town staff and council to re-visit the various fees charged to the drillers – ranging from permits to inspections to escrows for road maintenance and landscaping – to make certain Flower Mound is properly remunerated for its hospitality. There’s no reason we should be facing a budget shortfall while Williams and others are making millions off our precious resources.

The drillers should be investing in a rainy day fund as well, in the event of a serious accident. And we need to put some teeth into our fines, so Williams will never again be tempted to delay reporting a spill as they did in March at the Cummings site.

Mrs. Northern, I ask that you direct staff to communicate more frequently and thoroughly with your constituents about the drilling going on in our community. We know we can’t trust what the drillers tell us. We deserve to know the truth, and we’re counting on you to deliver it.

Over the past two weeks, Flower Mound voters mobilized in unprecedented numbers to demand accountability from their elected officials and the companies that seek to do business here. In the process, the town has become a beacon for others across Texas and around the nation to emulate. We proved that we will not be intimidated by powerful forces that put profits ahead of the public’s health, safety and quality of life. We fought for our town’s future because our town is worth fighting for. And, against some stiff odds, we won.

Flower Mound has been called “a little slice of paradise” by countless residents. We have exemplary schools; family-friendly neighborhoods on lots big and small; wide-open pastures with horses, cows and even the occasional buffalo; and a brand, spanking new, state-of-the-art hospital thanks to the tireless work of Al Filidoro and others.

This is not a transient city. This is a place where families put down roots and stay for generations. It’s one of the best places to live in America – and therefore, the world – and I’m very happy to report it’s going to stay that way.

It’s morning again in Flower Mound. Greet the brand new day.

(Editor’s note: Barbara Kessler, editor of Green Right Now, also is a resident of Flower Mound, Texas.)