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Concern Regarding Land Use Regulation Amendments

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Dear Mayor Smith, Mayor Pro-Tem Levenick, Deputy Pro-Tem Dixon and Councilman Wallace,

I am writing to express my deep sadness, disappointment and confusion over your decision on January 21, 2010 to allow Consolidated Compression and Produced Water collection facilities (CCF) in the agriculturally zoned areas of Flower Mound.  I don’t know any of you personally, but I am sure you are all decent and caring public servants who are just as concerned about the welfare of our town’s citizens as I am. I know you must cherish Flower Mound’s reputation as a family-friendly residential community widely known for a smart growth philosophy designed to protect that reputation.  I deeply appreciate the long hours you have all spent on Town business and how you have shepparded the many projects that have made our Town such a wonderful place to live.  So, the decision you made on January 21, 2010 seems like an aberration in view of what you have stood for and what you have done in the past on behalf of all Town citizens.

I am writing to you today, with hopes that you will take a step back and look at this issue through the eyes of a citizen, who, until now, has felt secure in your ability to govern Flower Mound wisely.  I ask you to try to understand my concerns and then reconsider your decision.

First, I’d like to address the process of how you came to decide how a CCF would fit in an agriculturally zoned area. I understand individual gas wells are allowed in these areas and I respect the right of property owners to profit from any resources found on or under their property.  However, your decision paves the way for untold numbers of larger scale gas compression activities and produced water storage operations with untold numbers and miles of associated underground pipeline. I’ve looked at the Town’s zoning map and the color that jumps out at me is GREEN, the color for agriculturally zoned areas. I have spent many sleepless nights since January 21 wondering how many gas companies will attempt to increase their profits by securing an SUP for compression and consolidated produced water storage areas within the Town limits. My concern increases as I contemplate their powers of eminent domain and envision what activities (schools, churches, ponds, streams, homes) the underground pipelines (carrying produced water) may pass on their way from gas wells to a consolidated waste point.  I really see no benefit to the Town in allowing these types of industrial facilities in agriculturally zoned areas. And I am further perplexed when I look at the slides posted on the Town’s web site by the Environmental Resource staff stating that these types of facilities are more of an industrial type use and were not permitted in agriculturally zoned areas (until January 21). Forgive me for wondering if the fact that the Williams Company owns over 50 acres of land (mostly in agriculturally zoned areas by Scenic Road) had a bearing on the decision to allow an industrial type facility in an agricultural zone.

I’d also like to address the cost-benefit analysis that drove some people to support a consolidated compression and produced water collection facility. The main concern voiced on January 21 was that too many tanker trucks were traveling on Shiloh Road, endangering school kids and cyclists.  I won’t debate the contention that those selling mineral rights should have had a better understanding of how many trucks it would actually take to fracture a well and remove produced water. Rather, I would like to know why the only solution was the approval of a consolidated facility that would just move the tanker trucks from Shiloh Road to Scenic Road. Won’t there be just as much danger (or perhaps more) when the tanker trucks enter FM 1171 from Scenic Road? Isn’t it possible, that if the Town can’t restrict where produced water can come from, then even more trucks might be traveling on FM 1171 from wells located outside the Town limits? Did the Town staff consider other alternatives to the tanker truck safety issues?  Without doing a detailed investigation of the state and federal laws governing drilling and pipeline operations, I don’t know if a municipality can or cannot tell a drilling company to recycle produced water. What I do know is that a Town has a right to regulate activities within its boundaries and that it has a duty to protect the Town’s resources and the well-being of its residents. At face value, it seems reasonable to have expected the Town staff to investigate more fully the ability to require recycle operations at drill sites before changing the zoning laws.

While I disagree with the benefit analysis related to permission (Specific Use Permit) of an industrially type activity in agriculturally zoned areas, I am much more concerned with any analysis you may have conducted in relation to the Town’s Master Plan and the Town Smart Growth Program. Before January 21, 2010, I intuitively accepted the fact that Flower Mound public servants had exceptional plans for managing growth and maintaining the quality of life for all its residents. That fact was evidenced everywhere I looked throughout the Town. But on January 21, 2010, I sensed that something had gone terribly wrong.

Since that night, I have buried myself doing research on the Town’s excellent web site, trying to come to grasp with what happened. After reading the Master Plan and its genesis and reading the Smart Growth Management Plan, I was struck by the foresight and brilliance that went into their development. I am no expert on municipal planning, but it seems obvious to me that the Threshold Zoning Criteria (contained in the SmartGrowth Plan) was not applied to your decision to introduce the amendments to the Land Development Regulations. Specifically, I believe you broke the delicate nexus among the land development code, the Master Plan and the Smart Growth Plan that was designed to preserve and enhance Flower Mound’s community character and its quality of life. I do not believe that you adequately assessed the community wide impacts related to this zoning change.  I am not an alarmist, but I simply do not believe that there are absolutely no health or environmental risks associated with produced water or with emissions from drilling operations.  And I believe that increasing the density of these operations throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex increases the risks for all of us. Sadly, the current federal and state regulatory structure for fractured gas drilling operations contains too many loop-holes to provide adequate protection from those risks. So, I am left with you, my Town Council, as my last line of defense. Your decision has not left me feeling very secure. 

As a United States Army Officer for 24 years, I was honored to do my part to uphold and defend the Constitution of this great land. And now, as a citizen of Flower Mound, I feel a deep sense of duty to try to help correct what happened on January 21, 2010.  As I read through the many council minutes posted on the web site, I noticed that many of you have a long history doing the things that make our Town a truly remarkable place.  I hope you will re-read the Town’s Master Plan and Smart Growth Plan and consider overturning your decision.  In the meantime, know that although I am new to the fight, I am no less committed than you in maintaining the quality of life and community character that I have enjoyed here since 2002.

Virginia Simonson
Flower Mound, TX

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