City council looks to tighten drilling rules
By LARRY SHIELDS
SALEM – City council heard a first reading on an amendment aimed at restricting where oil and gas companies can drill inside the city after it was forwarded by the three-member rules and ordinance committee with no formal action or recommendation.
The action was taken during a special meeting following the rules and ordinance committee meeting on Monday.
Mayor John Berlin requested the council meeting.
Councilwoman Cindy Dickey was absent from the committee meeting along with her tie-breaking vote.
Committee Chairman Rick Drummond and Councilman Clyde Brown spent more time discussing procedural issues after Drummond summed up the legislation.
The amendment says gas and oil extraction wells, “…vertical or fracking horizontal bore well(s) are considered an industrial activity and the well site shall be restricted to M-2 Industrial Zoning Districts and not be conducted with 500 feet of any existing building or structure.”
Brown stated his objections to not having enough notice and lack of hearings on the issue, but he also stated his position against the amendment even if it had been prepared to his approval.
He said there are problems with trucks, noise, dust and road damage at drillsites.
“This has just been too quick,” he said, adding the rules and ordinance committee should have discussed all the details and all the information so it could be voted on.
“Even with this, I probably would have voted against it anyway,” Brown said.
The amendment had Drummond’s backing but lacked a majority vote to formally move it out of committee, so he asked Council President Mickey Weaver, who was present as a guest, if it could proceed to council which was meeting in special session following the rules and ordinance committee.
Weaver said she didn’t think it needed a motion and Housing, Planning and Zoning Officer Pat Morrissey said it could proceed “without the recommendation.”
Brown said he knew “this was eventually going to come” and Weaver underscored that by pointing out that as a member of the rules and ordinance committee he could have brought it up.
She prefaced her remark by saying she didn’t mean it in a negative way.
Drummond and Weaver also pointed out that as a first of three readings the amendment will proceed to the planning commission after 30 days for another round of discussions.
Another issue, Drummond explained, was he was looking at all the vacations while noting he would be leaving the city himself and wanted to expedite the amendment.
“I asked the law director to come up with it because it has to go to the planning commission in 30 days,” he said, adding it was an effort to address the “issue of coming and going attendance-wise … I had it drawn up based on the language of the housing and zoning office … it’s not that complex … if council wants to change it we have the final say on that.”
Brown was unaware it would be done immediately.
“I think it’s little rushed,” he said, adding the people of Salem haven’t had time to look at it.
Drummond he wanted to get the ball rolling.
“If people have concerns they can attend the planning commission meeting.”
He added, “We have done in essence everything we’ve done in the past … the language is very precise and we have a chance to change it.”
Brown said he understood the procedure.
“We’re not following the procedure,” he said, “and after talking to people I can’t support this tonight.”
Weaver said it was basically a worksheet and nothing improper occurred.
“Otherwise it wouldn’t have passed the litmus test of the law director,” she said.
Drummond asked Brown if he had anything specific he objected to and Brown said that after speaking to people he was “against the whole thing.”
Drummond said, as is stood, Brown’s neighbors have the right to sell their oil and gas rights.
Morrissey said the amendment was more of a “clarification than a new law.”
Drummond closed the meeting by forwarding it council’s special session and using emergency clauses, council heard the first reading.
After the meeting, Morrissey was asked if the 500-foot restriction was measured from the drill hole or the outer edge of the well pad.
He thought it was from the drill hole, but said that could be reviewed by the planning commission.
He was also unaware of any current drilling contracts in the city, but acknowledged somebody could have one.
All of the M-2 industrial districts are on the northwest, west and southwest sections of the city following the railroad tracks and they take in both industrial parks to the north and move south of Snyder Road.
“We need to be pro-active,” Morrissey said, “we don’t mean you can’t drill, we’re just restrictive.”