UPDATED: Denton voted to increase noise levels at gas well sites

by TXsharon on April 27, 2014

in Denton

scratching head Lead by Dalton Gregory the Denton City Council has weakened the Denton noise ordinance. But they say, just trust us and it’s for your own good because the weaker ordinance will be easier to enforce. Inconceivable! Why would the council do such a thing this close to an election that seems to be hinging on the one issue of fracking? The City of Denton is much like fracking in that what you see on the surface often does not reflect what’s happening below. And like fracking, things can get complicated so please hang with me in this attempt to look below and understand what happened with the noise ordinance. Friday, I was copied an a couple of emails to Denton City Council members and the mayor. From one email I learned that a Southlake resident who complained about noise coming from the EagleRidge gas well in Southlake Park, was told the noise levels were increased to 85 decibels. The previous noise level was 65 decibels.

No gas well drilling equipment, production equipment, re-drilling equipment, or any other associated equipment shall be operated at any Drilling and Production Site within the City in such a manner so as to create any noise level that exceeds sixty-five (65) decibels. Denton gas well ordinance

With the email came a link to the council meeting on video. So I watched it and you should too. There is a poor quality video of pertinent sections below. At the beginning of the work session the council decides to go into closed session to discuss the noise ordinance. Then at 2:36 the council votes to amend the noise ordinance in regular session. As you watch this video, you might wonder who is really running things in the City of Denton?

Consent agenda item J Consider adoption of an ordinance repealing redundant and inconsistent noise provisions from the Denton Development Code, consolidating noise enforcement authority in existing provisions of the Denton Code of Ordinances and existing state law; directing the codifier to cross reference as needed; clarifying enforcement authority; and establishing an effective date.

Questions arise: Who enforces what, exactly? In each instance where noise is referenced on the city website FAQs it states: “Noise violations are enforced by the Police Department.” The enforcement authority is and always was clear. What is now unclear is what they are supposed to enforce. Chapter 17 property maintenance remains the same. If you are making noise over 65 decibels, the Denton Police Department can take an enforcement action against you because your noise falls under Chapter 17. Noise at the gas well operations in your neighborhood now reverts to Texas Statues:

Texas Penal Code Statute 42.01, Disorderly Conduct, “(2) a noise is presumed to be unreasonable if the noise exceeds a decibel level of 85 after the person making the noise receives notice from a magistrate or peace officer that the noise is a public nuisance”

If your neighbor EagleRidge is making noise, their noise in your neighborhood can now be 20 decibels higher than your noise. The city can make some arbitrary and not clearly defined determination that EagleRidge’s noise is a “legitimate” noise complaint.  It seems residents of Denton now have no more protection than residents living outside the city limits but they sure pay a lot more taxes. Why does discussion of a noise ordinance require a closed session meeting? At the city attorney’s suggestion the council went into closed session to discuss the noise ordinance. But, according to the below from the email exchange, a noise ordinance does not qualify for a closed meeting.

What are the general subjects for which a governing body may hold a closed meeting? Under the Act, a governing body may generally hold a closed meeting for one or more of the following nine reasons: 1. consideration of specific personnel matters;105 2. certain consultations with its attorney;106 3. discussions about the value or transfer of real property;107 4. discussions about security personnel, security devices, or a security audit;108 5. discussions about a prospective gift or donation to a governmental body;109 6. discussions by a governing body of potential items on tests that the governing body conducts for purposes of licensing individuals to engage in an activity;110 7. discussions of certain economic development matters;111 8. discussions of certain competitive matters relating to a city-owned electric or gas utility for which the city council is the governing body;112 and 9. certain information relating to the subject of emergencies and disasters.113 Texas Open Meetings Act

The city responds – just trust us: Kevin Roden, the Denton fracking negotiator responded to the email.  You can read the entire email exchange with names and addresses removed here. I will include an excerpt below.

The goal of this change, as was clearly explained during the discussion prior to the vote, is to align the sound provisions of the gas well ordinance with what is already existing standards and procedures in city and state law. Among other things, this allows our police force to respond to noise complaints from drilling operations and makes the complaints easier to address and easier to prosecute should the circumstances demand it. I’m attaching the backup material for Consent Agenda J for that evening where you can read the ordinance in its entirety. Additionally, I’m copying in the referenced city ordinance below for your benefit. To be clear – this helps the matter. The ordinance was complicating things and making it more difficult to enforce and address complaints. It’s a good thing. And for what its worth, Dalton Gregory led the effort to make this change out of concern that we weren’t addressing noise concerns to the extent that we should have been.

Here is my reply in its entirety:

Maybe you could clear it up for everyone. After watching on video 3 times the guarded, carefully couched explanation given in the council meeting, I came to the same conclusion Cathy did. So I contacted Calvin Tillman, knowing that he has several much bigger and meaner fish–Devon, Atmos and Chesapeake–operating in his former tiny town. He had no problem enforcing the sound ordinance. In addition to clearing this new sound ordinance up generally, could you please explain this part further: “it allows for legitimate complaints…”

  • What is a legitimate complaint and a non-legitimate complaint?
  • Who decides what is legitimate and non-legitimate?
  • What criteria does this decider use in making their decision?

Reverting back to the state ordinance leaves the citizens with an arbitrary, vague sound ordinance and a vague, “just trust us,” promise that it will be enforced by a city that has shown no inclination to get tough on crime where this industry is concerned.

Am I missing something?

UPDATE: Denton Councilman, Kevin Roden has responded on Facebook:

Kevin Roden Rhonda – it is unfortunate that this movement is being led by an out of town activist whose only interest in the city is agitating matters and getting national attention doing so. This is one of the clearest examples I’ve seen.

We changed the ordinance, as I described in emails that the author here chose to redact, in order to make sound issues more addressable and enforceable. The same ordinance that applies for your drum playing now applies to gas well operators. That’s a good thing. And it is not true, as I explained, that the standard went up 85 dB.

First, I have been blogging about Denton since way back in 2009 when they decided to let Range Resources drill across the street from McKenna Park. I don’t intend to stop blogging about Denton anytime soon especially now that residents in Denton have started a grassroots campaign to ban fracking. Frack Free Denton is a campaign of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group and you can see the members here. They are a nurse, 2 college professors and a retired professor. Other residents who are upset about drilling and working for a ban were highlighted in national news today. I was not mentioned.

I am not the leader of the group but that is the line put forth by industry in their deceptive push polling phone calls. It’s unfortunate that Roden would stoop to using the same deception industry uses. But, while we are on the subject, Ed Ireland does not live in Denton and he was allowed a vote on the Denton Drilling Task Force.

Second, I did not redact his email. I clearly stated that I was providing an excerpt and I linked to both of Roden’s email responses in their entirety.

Third, response in three parts

  1. In the video above, the city attorney clearly states that Chapter 17 noise provisions in property management remain the same but the ordinances and codifiers go ahead and reference those state law provisions. If you read the state statue it says 85 decibels.
  2. A resident in the Southlake Park area sent an email to DAG stating that when she complained about noise from the EagleRidge site, she was told the new noise limit was 85 decibels.
  3. If, as Roden states above, the limit is not 85, what is it then? Denton residents don’t want some vague assurances. They want and deserve a real number.

My questions remain unanswered and now I have another question: What is the decibel limit for industrial uses in Denton?

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Ruggiero April 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm

So will Denton Police Officers be issued sound meters? And how will this enforced, exactly? Unlike a loud party, or some kids blasting away in a garage band, there very likely will not be anyone at the gas site to even talk to. That said, I would have thought the Denton City Council and Mayor would have much bigger issues to sort out than what the decibel level should be at gas sites.

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cathy mcmullen April 27, 2014 at 11:13 pm

I am still trying to figure out what the role of the gas well administrators office is. With an annual budget of over $500,000 you would think this would be the dept that would monitor and enforce problems with noise at gas wells sites. Why has the matter of noise monitoring at gas well site become the police dept’s problem? The gas well inspectors office has the big fancy expensive sound monitors not the police dept.
Noise complaints are low on the priority response from police officers so maybe the industry and city are hoping by the time the police show up the blowout will be over. Hmm would that be a legitimate or an illegitimate complaint?

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TXsharon April 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

One role is to bury things. I have a shovel.

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WCGasette April 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Not completely sure, but it appears that close attention to changes to the Ordinance should be a top priority in Denton, Texas ~ especially since they seem to be going into Executive Session about the changes? Are they going for more authority by calling out the police department? In our town, the police department escorted the thumper trucks through the neighborhoods because they were “ordered” to do so. Police take orders from their police chiefs who take their orders from city managers. Voila.
WCGasette recently posted..Happy Earth Day 2014.My Profile

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TXsharon April 28, 2014 at 1:19 pm

You seem to have a good grasp on the situation. I feel for the police who have to try and figure out how to enforce this mess.

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WCGasette April 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm

If you read any of these North Texas gas drilling ordinances, they are filled with strong language covering each issue only to be followed by a one sentence disclaimer that basically says, “Unless the City Council, Gas Inspector or other ruling entity makes an Exception.” This kind of wiggle room is a gift to the industry and nulls and voids the entire “concept” of an Ordinance. There’s the grasp. :=(
WCGasette recently posted..Happy Earth Day 2014.My Profile

TXsharon April 28, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Word!

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