As Election Day approaches in Flower Mound, most voters think the election is driven by a single issue: gas drilling. In fact, several important issues are at stake, including health, safety, quality of life, property values, surface vs. mineral rights, water conservation, environmental preservation, economic growth, ethics, integrity, accountability in leadership and our town’s future as a family-friendly community.
That each of these issues is rooted firmly in the drilling debate is, of course, the kicker.
One element absent from the election campaigns is ambiguity. Indeed, the battle lines could not be more clearly drawn.
On one side stands incumbent Mayor Jody Smith, and her running mates Gerald Robinson and Bryan Webb. Robinson and Webb each have leased their mineral rights to natural gas drillers. Smith transferred the royalties from her lease, signed in 2008, a few weeks before the election. Each maintains a conflict of interest with a drilling company.
All three recently spoke in favor of the controversial centralized wastewater collection facility (CCF), which was something of a surprise. Up till now, the public party line from the pro-drilling faction had been neutral to the CCF, even after the fateful vote on January 21 that set the petition drive in motion. At least they’re finally admitting what we’ve known all along: They support Williams Production’s drilling master plan, which features as its centerpiece a massive industrial facility in the heart of an agricultural zone – and near a school, neighborhoods and waterways – that will store millions of gallons of toxic waste fluid produced by the drilling process before it is trucked to some other unfortunate community. The facility’s two or three dozen tank batteries will be fed by a web of pipelines transporting the waste from drilling pads across town, and perhaps also from other areas (such as Lewisville and Corinth, which are arriving at the drilling party fashionably late).
If there was any lingering doubt about these candidates’ allegiance, a letter sent on April 15 by another driller, Keystone Exploration, urges royalty owners to “PLEASE VOTE to re-elect Mayor Jody Smith and to elect new council members Gerald Robinson and Brian Webb,” and closes by thanking the recipient for “your support in this effort to protect our mutual interests in your property.” The gas company’s letter likewise refers to residents who “do not own their minerals and would not benefit from the drilling.”
Keystone’s own words speak volumes, and should be recalled every time you hear a drilling representative, or mineral owner, or candidate – often one and the same person –
extolling the virtues of exploiting our corner of the Barnett Shale. Mineral owners profit from the wells; the rest of us just get the shaft.
The “Keystone Kandidates” have waged one of the dirtiest campaigns anyone can remember. In February, a member of the mayor’s immediate family was caught with signs allegedly stolen from the petition drive. Earlier this month, two of Mayor Smith’s best friends, Patsy Mizeur and Jan Balekian (owner of the Pumpkin Patch), sent a vile letter that mocked parents of several local children diagnosed with leukemia who shared their gas-drilling worries with Town Council. They claimed “the activists have even paraded their cancer stricken kids,” as if they were some kind of prop.
Another Smith friend and ally, Mark Stewart, distributed an inflammatory flier that likened petition supporters to “Marxists, Socialists and the most extreme liberal activists.”
Yet another letter, this one unsigned (but using Balekian’s postal permit, oops!), warns that “our conservative values are at stake” and refers to petition forces as a “fringe” group. I’m not sure what the pumpkin lady’s definition of conservative values is, but where I come from, you don’t sling arrows at your neighbors behind a shield of anonymity.
None of the candidates endorsed in these campaign mailings have distanced themselves from the divisive and malicious attacks.
Now the pro-drilling slate is accusing Smith’s opponent for mayor, Melissa Northern, of wanting to turn FM 2499 into a toll road. They’re twisting a comment she made during a recent debate, when she listed a range of options under discussion regarding the northern extension of 2499 through Highland Village and up to Denton.
When questioned later, Northern said “the idea that I was supporting turning 2499 in Flower Mound into a toll road is a lie.” Nor would it even be legal under Texas law to convert the existing stretch into a toll road, as Mayor Smith knows all too well.
The whole notion is preposterous. But that hasn’t stopped the Keystone Kandidates from erecting signs across town misrepresenting Northern’s position. Chicago-style politics has arrived in suburban Flower Mound. (Take one guess where Jody Smith is from…)
At last Saturday night’s debate, Smith declared that she has “selfishly” served the town for six years. We all know what she meant to say – at least, we assume she meant “unselfishly” – yet there are no signs around Flower Mound today using her words against her.
Northern is taking the high road, while Jody Smith creeps down the toll road.
It’s time for new leadership in Flower Mound. Your vote for the “NFL” slate – Melissa Northern, Al Filidoro and Steve Lyda – will return integrity and accountability to Town Hall. These candidates, while campaigning hard, have refused to stoop to the level of their opponents. You won’t find any nasty letters from their supporters in your mailbox, either.
The NFL candidates (Northern/Filidoro/Lyda – get it?) opposed the council’s CCF vote on January 21, and they support the moratorium favored by more than 6,000 citizens who signed the recent petition. The Keystone Kandidates say that 6,000 people should not be allowed to impose their will on the entire town. The NFL candidates understand that twice as many residents signed the petition as have voted in any recent municipal election. The moratorium is the will of the people.
The NFL candidates are committed to strengthening the town’s gas ordinances, and holding the line on the constant requests for variances to those ordinances from Williams and other drillers. They know that “strong” ordinances mean little when 16 of the 18 drilling pad sites approved to date have been granted variances allowing the companies to ignore one or more of the town’s safeguards.
The pro-drilling lobby has labeled NFL supporters “fear mongers” for constantly citing accidents associated with urban gas drilling. Perhaps they should address their concerns to the drillers instead, since they are the ones that keep providing fresh material.
A few of us have chronicled gas drilling accidents from Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Arkansas and, just recently, in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. We’ve seen catastrophic explosions in El Paso and Decatur, and heavily contaminated air and/or water in Denton, Fort Worth, Dish and other towns in North and South Texas.
I’m still searching for a town somewhere across America where the locals are glad the gas companies are drilling there. So far, no luck.
We’re also waiting to hear if Williams will be fined for spilling 3,000 gallons of flowback water at the Cummings site in western Flower Mound last month. To the contrary, the town just rewarded the company with more variances at another site so they could drill even closer to protected waters of the state. And as if to prove who’s running the show, Williams is asking for permits on five more wells on the Cummings property.
Could this rush for approvals have anything to do with the possibility of a new sheriff riding into town?
To be clear, Northern, Fil
idoro and Lyda are not anti-gas, or anti-drilling. In fact, many lease-holders support their campaigns, because they, too, demand that drillers follow best practices and adhere to the strictest possible safeguards if they want to do business in our town. Nobody questions the rights of land owners to profit from their minerals. The NFL simply believes everyone’s rights to health, safety and quality of life should take priority.
The Keystone Kandidates have engaged in their own brand of fear-mongering, when they warn that stricter local ordinances may trigger state-wide standards that preempt (and weaken) Flower Mound’s protections. What they neglect to tell you is this has never happened to a city or town in Texas!
If only drilling accidents were so hypothetical.
Flower Mound’s future is at stake in this election. A vote for Smith, Robinson and Webb means further entrenching the pro-drilling majority on the Town Council and rewarding some of the most unethical campaigning in our town’s history. Williams, Keystone and those on their payroll are counting on their opponents to stay home. After all, as Andrew Lack once famously said, “Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
A vote for the NFL – Northern, Filidoro and Lyda – ensures your voice will be heard again at Town Hall.
It wasn’t so long ago that Flower Mound was considered one of the best places to live in America. Whom do you trust to reclaim that promise?
Ladd Biro owns a marketing and public relations firm and moonlights as a syndicated sports columnist. He has lived in Flower Mound since 2002.