The Don’t Drill the Hills citizens group that opposes horizontal drilling practices, known as fracking, has filed a court action against the city of Rochester Hills to void city-approved leases for oil and gas exploration on city-owned park and cemetery properties.
The group said Mayor Bryan Barnett had the blessing of the Rochester Hills City Council last January when he signed a lease with Jordan Development Co. LLC. The Don’t Drill the Hills group maintains the least violates the city’s charter and Michigan laws, and is a violation of public trust.
The lease allows Jordan Development Co. and West Bay Exploration Co. to use horizontal drilling to explore for, extract and sell oil/gas from Tienken Park, Nowicki Park and Stoney Creek Cemetery.
Don’t Drill the Hills member Jeannie Morris said in a statement that the leases are not consistent with the values of a city that “proclaims its ‘green’ initiatives and environmental successes.”
The group said parks and natural resources should be protected for future generations, and thier lawsuit “strives to make that a reality.”
Members also worried that given the “swift passage” of approval of the leases, “there are concerns the city did not perform proper investigatory due diligence,” according to the statement.
A resident-driven 2011 City Charter Amendment says city-owned parks cannot be sold, leased or converted to non-recreation or non-conservation uses without approval of the city’s voters in an open election, the group said. Don’t Drill the Hills maintains the city charter protects not just the surface of the park land in Rochester Hills, but also the entire property, including the subsurface resources.
The lawsuit, filed in Oakland County Circuit Court, asserts that by signing a lease with Jordan, the Mayor and City Council:
Violated the City Charter (Sec. 11.8).
Violated Michigan law (MCL 117.5(e)) which requires voter approval for the sale of city parks and cemeteries designated as such in the City’s Master Plan.
Acted beyond the scope of their power, and took away the citizen’s right to vote on the lease.
“We worked hard in a citywide effort to amend the charter in 2011 to protect our parks and ensure our beautiful city retains its residential character,” Erin Howlett, a spokesperson for the group, said in the statement. “Rochester Hills voters saw the need for this added protection, initiated the charter amendment, approved it overwhelmingly at the ballot box, and the city needs to honor it.”
Don’t Drill the Hills said that since the city signed the least, Jordan Development has approached landowners and homeowner associations with offers to lease their land.
Also according to the statement:
“As local awareness has grown, residents have spoken out against horizontal drilling in dense residential areas with concerns over property rights, property values, environmental risks, tanker traffic, transparency in the process, and most importantly, the risks to the families that live in the 65 affected subdivisions and attend the 8 schools in the proposed drilling zone (along Tienken Road from Squirrel Road east to Stoney Creek High School).”