Rochester Hills Lifts Drilling Moratorium with Rushed Passage of Shaky Ordinances: Don’t Drill The Hills’ Measured Victory

After eighteen months of consistent pressure from Don’t Drill the Hills, Inc (DDHI), the City of Rochester Hills passed new oil/gas well and pipeline ordinances on Monday, a press release from DDHI said. As a result of passage, the drilling moratorium has been lifted. While DDHI is proud to have successfully pushed the City into action on ordinances, what resulted were ordinances that not ready and likely to be challenged. They were rammed through during a chaotic meeting with City officials questioning procedural process and compliance with the City Charter, Ch II, Sec 2.1.

ORDINANCE THEATER DDHI member, Erin Howlett, says she was stunned and frustrated: “Perhaps this is a fitting end to this process. It’s hard not to see tonight as just another act in Rochester Hills’ absurd “Ordinance Theater.” The City insisted they were diligently at work on ‘the most restrictive’ ordinances while drafts languished, unchanged, for a year. Now they rush through a new draft which passed against all precedent of procedure as evidenced by the protest of City Council President, Greg Hooper, and former Council President Scot Beaton.”

A MEASURED VICTORY FOR DDHI However, DDHI member Jeannie Morris adds it’s still a measured victory as a result of the Herculean efforts of residents: “It is not an overstatement to say that passage of any oil and gas ordinance would not have been possible in our city, if not for the diligence and persistence of residents. Nothing occurred from the time the City leased our parks for oil exploration in 2012 until we started making noise in January 2014.” Evidence of DDHI “wins” are inclusion of DDHI suggested language such as ‘baseline water testing’ and ‘no wastewater injection wells’. DDHI also compromised on 1000 foot drilling rig setbacks from homes, after asking for 1500 feet.

SHAKY ORDINANCES DDHI takes their complicated win while stressing this issue is far from over. Residents pointed out nonsensical errors in ordinance wording, but Council overlooked these in its haste to pass the ordinances. Unanswered questions regarding this shaky language fuels concerns that possible loopholes may not meet the purpose and intent to protect our residential and school areas, such as the large public properties the City leased for oil and gas exploration.

VOTING RIGHTS LAWSUIT In early May, DDHI filed final briefs in the Michigan Court of Appeals in support of their voting rights lawsuit against the City of Rochester Hills. This suit specifically addresses the City’s overreach by alleging a Charter violation by leasing park property without a prior public vote as required by the 2011 Charter Amendment CH XI, Sec 11.8. Some residents say this week’s questionable passage of ordinances brings potential disregard of the City Charter into further focus. DDHI has launched an online fundraiser to complete funding of lawsuit and assist with FOIA costs:

PROTECTING RESIDENTIAL AREAS Although there is ongoing litigation about the rights of citizens to enforce voting provisions, DDHI has continued to offer to collaborate with the City and has shared its extensive research. DDHI members spent months meeting with local and State legislators and State regulators to determine reasonable and enforceable parameters for Cities in establishing ordinances. DDHI will continue to push for more well-defined language while encouraging the City towards a more collaborative process with its residents. DDHI remains steadfast in their commitment to “Keep our residential areas, residential.”

Don’t Drill the Hills, Inc. is a non-partisan grassroots nonprofit corporation that is building awareness of the risks of horizontal drilling in high-density residential and K-12 School areas. Concerns include: property rights, property values, mortgage and insurance complications, as well as potential environmental and health risks.

About Sarah Hovis

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