JOSHUA — Angry residents and city dealings with Chesapeake Energy Corp. dominated Tuesday’s council meeting.

The usual workshop discussion of city department reports gave way to a question-and-answer session with Steve Campbell, Chesapeake district superintendent, which grew heated at times.

The controversy arose from a June 8 special-called meeting at which councilmen approved Chesapeake’s permit application to drill a gas well on land located within city limits owned by Sandlin Homes. Sandlin Homes, a North Richland Hills company, owns the land, which also contains the Joshua Meadows neighborhood.

Although the land is privately held, not city-owned, a Joshua ordinance required a permit or council approval before drilling could begin — or so city officials thought.

“In me and the mayor talking with our attorneys, we found a technical violation in our zoning ordinance,” said Paul Waldrip, acting city manager. “The ordinance lists permitted uses and those not listed are not permitted. Gas wells are not listed as being permitted. Therefore, they are prohibited.”

Waldrip said he and the council members became aware of the problem the day following the June 8 meeting.

About 30 Joshua residents, most of whom reside in the Joshua Meadows neighborhood, used Thursday’s meeting to voice disapproval of the gas well on several counts. Several said they don’t want gas wells within city limits or such close proximity to homes.

Justice of the Peace and Joshua Meadows resident Jeff Monk said he and others remain unhappy Chesapeake didn’t inform the neighborhood association regarding the upcoming well.

“There was no warning, just all the sudden a well popped up one day,” Monk said.

Campbell said Chesapeake has drilled several wells in other cities and subdivisions when Monk asked him if they’d ever drilled in an residential-zoned area.

Monk followed up by asking Campbell whether the company engaged in any pre-construction of the site before gaining a city permit, why Chesapeake followed Joshua’s cease-and-desist order for one day but then resumed operations and whether the company plans to drill future wells in Joshua city limits. Campbell said he didn’t know the answers to those questions.

“Seems you’re not very knowledgeable for a superintendent,” said Joshua Meadows resident Ronald Fisher.

Campbell apologized and told audience members that the company’s legal and land department personnel, not he, would know the answers to questions audience members were asking.

“Then why not send one of them instead of yourself?” Fisher asked.

At which point Waldrip said the council called Campbell in at short notice to address safety questions.

Fisher, Monk and others raised several safety concerns including lightning strikes, pollution and the fact that the well sits in a flood plain. Campbell said all such matters had been addressed and that the well is safe.

Others complained that the well is located in a section of the Joshua Meadows neighborhood, vacant presently, but platted for future development, which could mean truck traffic through neighborhood streets. Monk and others wondered how Chesapeake managed to raise the well tower and lay an access road so quickly, within seven days of receiving a permit.

“Once we realized there was a problem, our attorneys and theirs began to work on a settlement agreement so as to avoid a lawsuit,” Waldrip explained after the meeting. “At that point, everything seemed to be going well on that front. [Chesapeake] said they had a rig coming the next day and asked if they could continue working. At first we said stop, and they stopped. Then we said they could continue working until Thursday’s meeting when any settlement agreement would go before the council. But I told them that if the council votes down the settlement offer Tuesday all bets would be off.”

Instead, council members approved a settlement agreement by which Chesapeake will pay a $5,000 fine and donate $35,000 to Joshua for use in a beautification program of the city’s choosing.

Councilman Tom Tallent added three amendments, which the remaining council approved and voted to grant Waldrip authorization to negotiate with Chesapeake as a condition of Joshua accepting the settlement agreement.

The amendments include production operation improvements to ensure the well and tank pools are level or above the flood plain, training for fire department personnel and city inspectors so they will be prepared to respond to any action at the location and measures to hide or blend the site into the surroundings as much as possible.

Waldrip said the council hopes to amend the zoning ordinance to allow wells during next month’s meeting.

“I think the city made the best decision after consulting with their legal counsel,” Monk said the following day. “But they sold the peace and quite of the homeowners in that area during the 2006 summer for $40,000.”

Monk and other residents of the neighborhood said the wells will run 24 hours a day and make plenty of noise during the drilling process.

Waldrip said the city doesn’t oppose future well sites but plans to rewrite the zoning and gas ordinances to grant the city more authority over gas well drilling.

The council also voted to create a committee consisting of Councilman Glen Walden, former mayor Kenneth Bransom, Waldrip and two community business leaders to be determined to update the city’s sign ordinance and bring it to the council for vote in a future meeting.

Council members authorized Waldrip to go through city manager applications and present the best to council members for a final decision. Waldrip assumed the role of acting city manager last October after the council fired former City Manager Earl Keaton. Waldrip said several months ago that he has no wish to stay on as a permanent city manager and wishes to resume his role as Joshua Police Chief.



Matt Smith can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2339, or msmith@trcle.com.

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