Op-Ed regarding Oil and Gas Leasing Exploration in Rochester Hills

Please Note: The following is an open letter to residents of Rochester Hills by former Rochester Hills City Councilman Ravi Yalamanchi (2005 – 2013) on why he voted NO on Oil and Gas Leasing and Exploration while he was on Council. These opinions are his own and should in no way be considered an endorsement by Rochester Media, but rather to show our commitment to presenting all sides of a story and/or issue.

An Open Letter to the Residents of Rochester Hills

I wanted to provide the reasons why I voted NO on the leasing of Park property for oil and gas exploration, when I was on Council. First, I feel it is important to provide some background on the activities that occurred surrounding this issue. The issue came up on the October 22, 2012 city council agenda. The Council agenda is normally sent out 5 days in advance of the meeting. The agenda reflected “Request for Consideration and Approval of an Oil and Gas Lease with Jordan Management Company, LLC.” The subject of leasing city property to an Oil and Gas company was never discussed before nor, to my knowledge, the Council had not spent any time deliberating the issue prior to October 22, 2012, and the Mayor had not provided the pros and cons of such action. Before going to the Council meeting, it was the first time I started to research Oil and Gas exploration and started to learn the implications of leasing city property to Oil and Gas exploration. I went with an open mind to the Council meeting to listen and understand what the Mayor and the company had to present. During the discussion it became clear to me that decision had already been made and the Mayor was ready to sign the lease. Council approval was a formality. Most of my colleagues were ready to vote ‘YES.’

Former Rochester Hills City Councilman, Ravi Yalamanchi

Former Rochester Hills City Councilman,
Ravi Yalamanchi

My concerns expressed at the time of my NO vote remain. Simply, these concerns relate to the right of residents to vote on the parks lease per the city charter, and the safety of oil and gas exploration in residential areas.

In November of 2011, the residents passed an amendment to the Charter stating:

“City-owned parks and open spaces shall be used only for park and open space purposes and shall not be sold, leased, transferred, exchanged or converted to another use unless approved by a majority of votes cast by the electors at an election, “Converted to another use” means changing the use of a park or open space, or significant part thereof, from a recreation or conservation use to another use not directly related or incidental to public recreation or conservation.

I was responsible for initiating this amendment with an idea that I presented to a few residents after the efforts of the Mayor and Council to build Water Reservoirs in the parks. The residents took the initiative and galvanized homeowner associations across the city and placed it on the November 2011 election ballot. The Mayor and majority of Council felt the amendment was not needed and were unsupportive of the measure. Initially, the Mayor stymied the residents in their efforts. But elections tend to do magical things. The Mayor and my colleagues on the Council had a change of heart, and supported the initiative because they were up for reelection. The amendment passed overwhelmingly during the election.

At the October 22, 2012 council meeting I raised questions about the Charter and putting this to a vote of the people. The response was it would not impact the surface – since the lease is for oil and gas below the surface, the Mayor can sign the Lease. I indicated that there was clearly an implied trust, which we are violating. Being involved with the amendment it was clear in my mind the intent of residents wanting to put restrictions on Council and the Mayor because many efforts were made previously to lease out parks for development. The lease is a sale of part of the property, even if the extraction may not be on park property. There is no doubt in my mind the Council and Mayor violated the charter amendment with their actions on Oct 22, 2012 and December 3, 2012.

In addition to the charter issue, Rochester Hills has densely populated areas with homes, schools, businesses and churches. No substantive discussion occurred regarding potential the environmental impacts to neighborhoods, schools and water resources. The entire environmental consultation was compressed to a one-sentence summary; the rest was never provided to the Council prior to a vote.

Council never heard from nor saw a report from the actual drilling company to understand details. Moreover, a proper business case was not presented – the City did not bring in an expert on oil and gas to help us understand the implications of such lease, and we did not take time to consult with an attorney whose expertise is in Oil and Gas.

And what impact would oil and gas exploration cause on the home values? I requested we delay any action by the Council until the homeowners of various subdivisions were clearly informed and educated. They did not see the need to actively solicit public comment, and not one public hearing was provided to do so. My suggestion that we inform the homeowners associations and engage them in discussion was not taken under advisement, instead the Mayor and some of my colleagues proceeded forward. Neither the Mayor nor any of my colleagues made any compelling points as to why the city should move forward with the lease. It was merely they are here, and this is what they want, and we will give it to them and so they did.

The City now finds itself in a legal battle with a group of informed and involved citizens.  They have destroyed the trust with numerous residents and created outrage that’s on display at council meetings. They have damaged the reputation of the city by permitting our parks to be leased for purposes that residents do not want. The city is not struggling financially. When I left the Council the city had $28 million in general fund reserves. So whatever funds the exploration company paid the city – is it worth it to risk these treasures, quality of life and cause anxiety and uncertainty to the residents? Once again, elections tend to do magical things. After several months of requests and protests, only now do the Mayor and Council consider a moratorium, under the pretext of a Senate bill that has no chance of making it through lame duck.

And the questions remain: Why did the City sign a lease for Oil and Gas exploration in residential areas of our preeminent community? Why have they not put it to a vote of the people? I support the actions of informed and engaged residents to hold their city government accountable.

Ravi Yalamanchi

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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