The Big Bird
The biggest turkey in Fort Worth flew the coop in 2011, his tail feathers still singed from our frequent rounds of birdshot. Yep, Mayor Mike Moncrief resigned after eight years of running Fort Worth like his own personal fiefdom. We don’t have him to kick around anymore. More importantly, he doesn’t have us to kick around. However, one of his favorite allies in steamrolling residents and neighborhoods is still alive and clucking. Chesapeake Energy enjoyed a banner year for bullying.
Chesapeake is a mighty power in the Barnett Shale. The Oklahoma City-based company bills itself as the country’s most active driller of new wells. Those who try to stand in its way quickly find themselves staring at a battery of attorneys willing to litigate to the death. There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with drilling for natural gas. The industry creates jobs, infuses money into the economy, and provides an important energy source. Plus, many residents own their mineral rights and want to be able to earn royalties.
The problem is that Chesapeake, like so many other drillers, doesn’t care about the needs and wishes of the folks whose territory Chesapeake is moving into, nor the long-term environmental messes it creates (and will leave behind). The Weekly has written a litany of articles in the past several years about Chesapeake’s willingness to manipulate laws and politicians, exploit eminent domain laws for its own private gain, and turn neighborhoods into industrial armpits. Even Lassie wouldn’t give a damn if Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon fell down one of his wells.
But Chesapeake’s oily fingerprints were particularly large in 2011. They continued using millions upon millions of gallons of water for hydro-fracking during a historic drought this summer, even as area cities were forcing residents to curtail water usage. After drillers use the water, it becomes so contaminated that it must be injected into disposal wells. Chesapeake got greedy and began buying water from Arlington and using it at drill sites in Grand Prairie, which is forbidden by Arlington permits. Chesapeake only got caught because an alert resident reported the company.
Chesapeake also exploited Texas Railroad Commission Rule 37 to drill under properties and take natural gas without paying property owners. To meet its legal obligation of publishing notices, Chesapeake places public notices not in the major daily newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) or in the Fort Worth Business Press or even in Fort Worth Weekly. Nope, Chesapeake puts notices in the tiny Commercial Recorder, ensuring that almost nobody sees them.
Chesapeake performed seismic testing in an East Fort Worth neighborhood during this summer’s drought. The testing involves shaking the ground, which in turn shakes houses. Several homeowners in the area reported cracked walls, windows, and foundations afterward. But Chesapeake refused to take responsibility and blamed the cracks on the drought. Homeowners conceded when it became clear they would have to hire attorneys to take on Chesapeake’s legal team for reimbursement. Another Eastside neighborhood, Mallard Cove, is fighting to keep Chesapeake from plopping a huge compressor station complex into that residential area.
The company tosses out a few bones once in a while. Maybe giving money to schools, museums, and libraries allows company executives to sleep at night while their drillers are out taking people’s land, ruining property values and peace of mind, and pumping toxins into the air.
Maybe environmentalist Jim Schermbeck said it best. “I always thought I’d bring my family back to live in Fort Worth one day, but that’s no longer my goal,” he said. “The gas industry has contaminated not only the air and water but the cultural institutions and the entire fabric of the city. … That’s not the Fort Worth I grew up in.”
We don’t know what the Chesapeake execs are eating on Turkey Day, but we know it was paid for with big chunks of the soul of this city.
Turkey Roulette with TCU
Shortly after last year’s Turkey Awards issue hit the streets, Texas Christian University announced it would move to the Big East sports conference in 2012. This year, we hadn’t even opened the cranberry sauce before TCU reversed course and announced it’s moving to the Big 12, leaving the Big East high and dry. The school came in for some well-deserved ridicule, especially in light of the havoc this has undoubtedly caused for TCU’s 17 non-football sports teams. Still, we have to save a big portion of turkey for the whole miserable, broken, tottering, more-corrupt-than-Burma college athletics system that has made it worthwhile for schools like TCU to conference-hop like ADD sufferers with the TV remote. Come the 2012 Turkeys, the conferences will all be dead, and college football’s championship will be determined by a giant March Madness-style bracket. OK, has everyone chosen the holiday morsels they want? Great, now switch plates with someone else.
Public Interest for the Private Plucking
The worst recent example of how completely state government has been bought out by the drilling industry actually began several years ago, when an outfit called Pioneer Exploration Ltd. decided to put a commercial injection well in northwest Wise County. An injection well is a kind of high-pressure toilet for the drilling industry: Millions of gallons of toxic drilling waste are forced into strata far below the aquifers that supply public water supplies and private well water.
Locals objected and sued, protesting that, among other things, the Texas Railroad Commission, in granting the permit for the well, was not protecting the public interest. They lost the suit. They appealed. They won. But the Railroad Commission then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which issued its ruling last March. The high court’s finding: It’s really OK for the commission to define “public interest” as whatever is in the interest of getting oil and gas produced, public at large be damned.
We’re glad the Railroad Commission and Supreme Court aren’t in charge of inspecting the turkey for our tables –– could drive more Texans to vegetarianism.
This Turkey Has Nine Lives
The Trans-Texas Corridor officially died in June, with passage of a bill to repeal the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation to establish the monumental toll road plan. But according to anti-TTC activist Terry Hall, another bill passed that same day that actually kept 14 public-private projects from the TTC package alive and moving forward. Quite a slick end-around effort to benefit foreign corporations at the cost of Texas taxpayers and motorists. Questionable credit and a slick slice of turkey to TxDOT and its legislative allies.
Laying a Biiig Egg
The first Super Bowl held at Cowboys Stadium was supposed to be a huge deal, but first the Cowboys’ season flamed out and then the weather sucked during the week leading up to the big game. No matter, the game itself would redeem everything, especially with a record-breaking attendance at the event, right? Wrong! The city of Arlington found that a section of temporary seats installed at the last minute wasn’t up to code, which meant that more than 1,000 fans who had already paid for their tickets weren’t allowed into the stadium. The resulting PR disaster left egg all over the faces of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the National Football League. Affected fans were offered some attractive restitution packages, but think about the Packers fans who booked hotels, traveled across the country, and fought the weather only to miss out on their team being crowned champions. To Jones and the league, here’s some delicious turkey, already bought and paid for. Hey, wait. It’s the health inspectors! Where are they going with our dinner?
Fine Feathered Fluck-Up
The city of Fort Worth and the Texas Department of Transportation didn’t do anything legally wrong. In fact, their hands were somewhat tied. But they still get the bird for not communicating with each other and thereby allowing a bad situation to develop. The expansion of I-35 through the center of Fort Worth has been in the planning stages for decades. Residents on the East Side fought for years to get the Texas Department of Transportation to move its planned I-35 expansion a bit farther to the west to leave more space between the highway and the historic Oakhurst neighborhood. Then the city allowed Chesapeake Energy to plop a bunch of wells on the west side of the highway, directly in the path of the planned expansion. In September, TxDOT announced it was moving the highway project closer to the neighborhood again after Chesapeake demanded $50 million to move its wellheads. Yes, money talks. Next question?
Personal Fowl, Price-Gouging
We were saddened but not surprised to see rates at Fort Worth hotels and parking facilities skyrocket in anticipation of Super Bowl weekend last February. But we were shocked –– and more than a little heartbroken –– by the price-gouging at the refreshment tents in Sundance Square during the festivities. Guess how much one 16-ounce can of High Life cost. Here’s a hint: If you would have handed the server a 10-dollar bill, you wouldn’t have been left with any respectable tip money, maybe a couple of quarters, tops. Had you been blinded by the revelry and carelessly ordered three cans of High Life –– the only flavor left –– you would have kicked yourself for not buying a damn case of beer at the supermarket or liquor store beforehand and smuggling in a few brews under your heavy winter jacket. Maybe Sundance Square was trying to recoup forecasted revenues diminished by the dreadful weather. Still, exploiting yinzers and cheese-heads is one thing. Thumbing your beak at your neighbors is quite another.
Molly the Chicken
When it comes to gas drilling, they should take Molly the Longhorn off Fort Worth’s city flag and replace it with a chicken, surrounded by the smelly stuff one tends to step in around chicken yards. City staffers have decided in the last couple of years that they are not allowed to do anything — yes, you read that right, anything — to protect the health and safety of their citizens when it comes to gas wells, because, golly, that’s the responsibility of the state. Yeah, right. “We can’t control safety,” said Rick Trice, the city’s assistant director for gas drilling and leasing — just “quality-of-life” issues like traffic and noise. That’s good, because when the toxic waste tanks start blowing up and the aquifers are polluted and the air is no longer breathable, we’ll be able to hear the garbage trucks coming to cart off what’s left of this city. It’s such a comfort.
When State Rep. Lon Burnam visited the Occupy Fort Worth site in Burnett Park, protesters told him about the lack of available restroom facilities. “These people have a right to be here, and they have a right to safe and sanitary conditions,” Burnam said. So he dug into his own pocket to rent a port-a-potty for the crowd. But the city used a controversial ordinance aimed at restricting outdoor events to deny the protesters the use of their little seat of ease. Burnam called the city’s move absurd. If officials thought their decision would make protesters go away, they were wrong. Cab drivers and sympathetic citizens stepped up to shuttle the protesters to public restrooms. Despite some arrests based on other equally absurd ordinances, the protesters remain.
Last month, the Trinity River Improvement Partnership (TRIP) sponsored a forum at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden to discuss the merits of the $900 million Trinity River Vision project and ask questions about where that money will come from, what the justification for the project is, and what it has to do with flooding and water quality issues. About 125 people showed up, but it was one person missing that stirred the ire of the citizens. J. D. Granger, executive director of TRV, had promised to sit on the panel and give direct answers to those important questions. But at the last minute, he cancelled. The only one to show up on the “pro-TRV” side was a gutsy Jim Lane, a board member of the Tarrant Regional Water District. Lane did his best to answer some of the questions, but the water district is handling only part of the project. The reason given for Granger’s backpedaling was that he realized the event would involve discussing policy, and, shucks, he’s just the hired hand (although he’d known about the format of the event for weeks). But the fact is that Granger is in charge and is one of the few people who can sort out where this multi-agency project is going. Canceling at the last minute just doesn’t cut it. Maybe voters should drop him from their holiday invitation list. Oh, wait. That’s right. He’s not an elected official.
Eww, Don’t Talk About That at Dinner
This past summer, the Trinity River Vision produced several concerts on the river, with the audience floating on inner tubes while listening to the music. TRV also promoted a wakeboard park, where boarders would be pulled around a retention pond on the river by a whirling cable. It was all part of an effort to get Cowtowners more comfortable using the river, which many thought of as a big ditch full of debris and bacteria. But did TRV test the water to see if it was safe? No, they said they were relying on state-provided data. Journalists at WFAA-TV/Channel 8 decided to do the testing themselves. They found that several sections of the river –– including the concert area for the tubers –– had double to triple the amount of harmful bacteria that the EPA considered a safe level.
Most notable was the presence of E. coli, which comes from, um, human waste.
TRV officials never really explained why they didn’t test before they urged people to jump in but indicated they would get to it at a later date. Warning: Don’t eat any turkey served up by these folks.
Dry Old Birds
Alliance Town Center sure has its white granny panties in a wad over the scintillating wares of one particular tenant. The upscale romance shop The Velvet Box has been renting space from retail giant Sam Moon in this North Fort Worth shopping center for the past two years. Despite the fact that the shop has broken no laws and never been deemed a “sexually oriented business” by the city, Alliance Town Center just can’t take the thought — or sight — of tasteful lingerie, lubricants, vibrators, and books that explain the art of sex. So the center, owned by national developer Hillwood, is suing Sam Moon and The Velvet Box for breaking a “covenant” against anything, it seems, rated hotter than PG-13. Maybe Hillwood thinks its customers don’t have sex or that, if they do, it isn’t any fun. A turkey baster to the lot of them.
There Are Always Two Wings
People are always looking for evidence of bias or some kind of agenda on the part of news reporters. Sometimes it’s there. Sometimes it’s not. But more often when you see a story that feels one-sided, the culprit is lazy reporting. That’s why we’re giving two helpings of turkey to the news crew at NBC-DFW/Channel 5 for shoddy work on two North Texas stories. Not only were these pieces severely under-reported, but they gave the impression that the journalists had made up their minds about the stories before doing the reporting.
Exhibit A: The Western Hills High School freshman who was punished with in-school suspension for declaring in class that, as a Christian, he believed homosexuality was wrong. Channel 5 reporters promoted the story during their evening newscasts with the headline “Student’s First Amendment Rights Violated.” They interviewed the student, his mother, and their lawyer. No apparent effort was made to talk to dissenting voices in the situation beyond reading a standard “no comment” statement from the school district. The reporter didn’t mention that Kristopher Franks, the teacher in the class, was an openly gay man who said that he had experienced anti-gay harassment from students over the years. Nor did the reporters clarify that the student’s lawyer is part of an organization that promotes the conservative evangelical cause in public schools.
Exhibit B: Channel 5’s early coverage of the Occupy Dallas street protests. While giving little background on the issues that had triggered the Occupy movement in the first place, the reporter all but stated upfront that the local protest was composed of ill-advised malcontents. Channel 5 ran a series of brief clips featuring earnest but rambling young protesters. The reporter then declared that the diverse slogans on the protest signs “didn’t help.” Then the station trotted out an SMU economist to announce that the movement “doesn’t have a coherent message.” The story ended with the reporter quoting the economist as saying that while the Occupy movement might turn into a viable force for social change, “don’t count on it.” Fair and balanced just like a Thanksgiving feast without the turkey. Or pumpkin pie.
Gobbling Up Airtime
With some exceptions, the Big Three in local commercial sports talk radio –– ESPN Radio, The Fan, and The Ticket –– are guilty of the same overarching sin: being so utterly Cowboys-centric and Dallas-focused that the Texas Rangers could go to the World Series or TCU to the Rose Bowl, and you wouldn’t hear Word One from a Big Three sports-talk jock. (Oh, wait. All that did happen.) And the Stars? Who the hell are the Dallas Stars? Except for BaD Radio (The Ticket), Big Three hosts seldom deign to discuss Texas’ only NHL team, a perennial competitor and one with major playoff potential this season. But everything would be forgivable if the local sports-talk jocks stepped away from their national brethren and stopped being so downright offensive, flinging off-base theories, hyperbole, and bad grammar around like monkey poo and simply oozing nastiness.
Traditions We Could Do Without
Some turkeys, like Great Aunt Benilda’s fruitcake, just keep on coming back around. Case in point here: the Texas Legislature, which this year represented a tragedy of epic proportions for, let’s see, children, old people, property owners, well, just about everybody except oil and gas drillers, foreign corporations, and any friend of Rick Perry that didn’t fit into the first two categories. The Lege cut so much money from the state funding of public schools that districts all over Texas are suing. Legislators also passed a bill that opens the door to selling every asset we taxpayers have ever footed the bill for, down to hospitals and schools, to private for-profit corporations. The Lege’s redistricting bill stinks so bad that it too has been shot down by the courts, at least in the first round. For such fearless leaders, we serve up another slice off an ancient bird that gets dragged out of the freezer every two years.
Bad Dog, Worse Owner
Nothing warms the heart like the tale of a boy and his dog. That’s why animal-rescue groups and concerned citizens felt like they had been stabbed through the heart after hearing that the sob story of Steve Woods wasn’t true. Woods claimed to be an injured Iraqi war vet whose dog, Mimi, falsely accused of biting someone, had been placed on doggy death row. Supporters of Woods, including his zealous attorney, Randy Turner, raised more than $16,000 in two days and got Mimi out of stir. Animal-rights activists sent so many e-mails to city hall that it crashed the server. As it turns out, Woods never fought in Iraq. Or anywhere. And it was indeed Mimi who had repeatedly bitten people.
For lying about a war record, conning a well-meaning attorney, allowing his untrained dogs to roam freely, accepting money from concerned people on the basis of those lies, risking his dog’s life by being a terrible dog owner, and for a host of other sins, Woods shouldn’t get any turkey this year — just the leftover, meatless bones.