Dalton Gregory to run at-large

Denton City Council member Dalton Gregory, who is in the middle of his third and final term in District 2, has announced he will resign that spot in order to run at large in District 5 this spring.

The resignation is effective of the May election canvass date, which means Gregory will continue to serve through the spring.

Mayor pro tem Pete Kamp is not eligible to run again, having served three terms in District 5. Kamp made a similar move six years ago, resigning her council seat to run at large.

If he wins, he can continue to serve in District 5 for up to three terms. But if he loses, his resignation will create a vacancy on the council in May.

Keeping the door open for #Sriracha2Denton

In late October, Council member Kevin Roden seized an opportunity to get the city some national attention when Huy Fong Foods, the maker of Sriracha hot chili sauce, got in legal trouble in California with its emissions.

At first he penned an open letter on his blog, rodenfordenton.com, and got a bit of a campaign going on Twitter. The story became regional curiosity and was picked up by a number of outlets, including bloggers at the Dallas Observer and our sister paper, The Dallas Morning News, which triggered interest by national media. A story in the Los Angeles Times recounted some of the company’s legal troubles as well as the re-location pitch coming from Texas.

Before the holidays, Roden sent a letter  to the company repeating much of the same information about Denton and what it had to offer, but in a formal way. The company responded about a week later with a courteous, but noncommittal reply.

Recent interest by a few state legislators has kept the odd courtship in the news. Roden said this afternoon that he’s keeping the door open. There has been talk at the state level about sending a delegation to make a formal pitch, Roden said, and he’s willing to be a part of that, if it happens.

“The state has more resources to pursue that,” Roden said, adding, “I’ll keeping playing this for as long as it goes.”

 

“An ugly win”

The Denton City Council reversed itself last night on a zoning case for 75 acres of land near W.S. Ryan Elementary School. Previously a 3-3 tie vote had denied the zoning change, but last night Council member Dalton Gregory changed his vote, and Mayor Mark Burroughs, who was absent from that November meeting, was there as well, to tilt the scales 5-2.

Two gas wells currently sit on the land, which is otherwise vacant, and three other pad sites have long been planned by energy companies there. After losing the previous vote, the developer, Bob Shelton, pledged to work with the city to improve disclosure to future home buyers.

Either way, the new neighborhood along Ryan Road will come in much like neighborhoods along Vintage Boulevard and Bonnie Brae Street. There, EagleRidge Energy is re-working old wells and drilling new wells very close to homes, some of which were built after the first wells were drilled, angering residents.

Council member Jim Engelbrecht didn’t budge in the second round of deliberations over the request, saying that the compromise addressed issues presented by the developer and mineral owner, but did nothing of substance to protect future home buyers. He, along with Kevin Roden, repeated their vote to deny the zoning change that would essentially allow the developer to build 263 homes close to existing wells rather than 150 homes.

But Council member Dalton Gregory said the chance to eliminate the other three pad sites close to the school — where he was formerly the principal — and improve disclosure to future home buyers was a win.

“An ugly win,” he said.

The deliberations and vote can be viewed here:

City Council Regular Meeting – Dec 17th, 2013.

Other terms in Denton’s standstill agreement with EagleRidge

In the furious pace that sometimes follows a meeting and the requirement to file a story quickly, certain items invariably end up on the cutting room floor. I read the city’s StandstillAgreement before going into the meeting and hoped that other elements would be discussed in the open session, but they were not.

Here’s what was discussed.

It didn’t seem out of the ordinary that an agreement such as this would stipulate that action by either party under the agreement couldn’t become evidence in future litigation — specifically paragraphs 6 and 7 and whether EagleRidge must comply with the city’s permitting process.

But it is interesting that the preceding paragraphs (4 and 5) appear to protect the operator’s right to a permit from the city fire marshal. The city recently specified the ordering of permits so that the fire marshal’s permit isn’t released to the operator before other city-required permits are secured. It would have been nice for the city to acknowledge publicly that the fire marshal’s permits seem to have a greater currency. Perhaps a fire permit is to a gas drilling operator what a certificate of occupancy is to a small business.

There was no discussion, either, of the Pitner well site, but Paragraph 9 contains more reservations for the operator of its interests along Ryan Road, even though Bob Shelton wants to build more houses there. Here’s the back story on that. The council did agree to reconsider that vote at a future meeting.

In 2010, the city had a chance to do away with the provision which allows developers to come close in, but the council walked away from the chance to fix that. Pressure from, of all places, the residents of Robson Ranch, saw to that.

The other thing I didn’t report that former Council member Joe Mulroy and city engineer Lee Allison came to speak in favor of the standstill agreement. Unusual, indeed.

Krampus Day 2013

One of the best surprises of last year’s Christmas season was Krampus Day, or Krampustag, on the Denton Square.

Drivers passing through downtown Denton were surprised when St. Nick’s scary sidekick was there, stopping passersby and tapping on car windows to pass out presents. It was kind of the opposite of how the monster is portrayed in German folklore, but, you know, only in Denton.

We hear the guy is coming back to town for the feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 5. Watch for him.

War dogs

While most of the Veteran’s Day activities were focused on the Square this morning, I headed out to Ernie Dallas Park, in far southeastern Denton to watch as two new plaques were added to the Walk of Honor there.

Monty Slough was a dog handler in the Vietnam War and he made sure that some new plaques would honor both the fallen vets of that war and the fallen dogs of all wars.

A war dog memorial was dedicated last week at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.

A story in tomorrow’s newspaper will have a little bit more about Monty and Brandi, the German shepherd who was his constant companion in 1970-71, until he was injured in a firefight.

Slough learned later that the enemy had a bounty on handlers. Extra payment was given for the patch each handler wore on his uniform and for the branded ear of the dog, he said.

I was glad that I had read Susan Orleans’ fantastic book, Rin Tin Tin, earlier this year. Yes, the book is filled with Hollywood history, and dog breed history, but the best part, for me, was her in-depth look at war dogs and the pivotal role that Rin Tin Tin played in that history of U.S. warfare.

Soil testing report on April 19 blowout

With EagleRidge in the headlines again, I took a minute to follow-up with the Texas Railroad Commission and the final report on the April 19 blow-out that the commission staff said would be released sometime in September.

Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said that when the final soil samples came back clean, the commission decided to take no additional action against EagleRidge. The report is below.

A local environmental firm, KJ Environmental, took the soil samples as crews cleaned up the area around the well head. At the time clean-up began, a commission inspector noted that the damaged area was to the southeast of the wellhead, and included damage to tree foliage and native grasses.

“Can see salt crystals on foliage,” the inspector wrote.

Similar problems with chlorides showed up in soil samples near the wellhead. Sampling for BTEX chemicals did not show levels of concern. But the salt-soaked soil still had to be hauled away and replaced.

Here’s the report: 2696_001 (1)

If you want to know more about the long-term scars to the land from salt damage, here’s a short video about the Texon Scar.

 

Denton clarifies drilling ordinance

After about a 90-minute closed session, the Denton City Council moved quickly Tuesday afternoon to clarify the city’s new gas drilling ordinance to specify the sequencing of its permitting requirements.

From now on, operators must start their permits with the gas well inspection division. The move came after the city had to step back from a lawsuit it filed against EagleRidge Energy about two weeks ago. When the city sought a temporary injunction, the judge denied it, in part because EagleRidge produced a permit it received from the fire department.

Fire Marshal Laura Behrens told the council that the fire department inspects a property before it issues a permit to make sure that it meets the requirements of the current fire code.

Council member Dalton Gregory told the rest of the council that it made sense to him that a project would have to be platted before a fire inspection could occur. Council member Kevin Roden said he didn’t consider the move a change to the city’s ordinance, since he believed it clarified what the council had intended all along.

City Attorney Anita Burgess also said the city did not consider the move to be substantial change to the ordinance, but a clarification of the sequencing required.

UPDATE: Here’s the substituted ordinance. The language was changed from the original draft in the council’s agenda packet. SubstitutedOrdinance

 

The fire permit that stopped a thousand ships

Those closely following the city’s legal battle with EagleRidge Energy will note that Tuesday’s City Council meeting shows the fire code will be amended. At issue seems to be the “operating” permits currently issued by the fire department to show compliance with the international fire code. It looks like the city will be moving that authority over to the gas well inspections division.

I got a copy of the fire department permit that was issued to EagleRidge prior to the beginning of operations on Bonnie Brae St. Here it is: Eagleridge Fire Dept Permit

Although no one has said this to me on the record, it’s a good guess that this may be what caused the city to retreat earlier this week.

I have a full story coming in this Sunday’s paper.

Denton will spray for mosquitoes

The City Council just approved a resolution authorizing the staff to spray in areas where human cases of West Nile virus are found. The move came this afternoon, after a second human case of the disease was reported in a neighborhood just east of Wiggly Field, near Teasley Lane and Hickory Creek Road. A city crew is expected to spray the area overnight in the next few days.