Talking TRUTH About The Farmers Branch Creek Dispute PART 2

Talking TRUTH About The
Farmers Branch Creek Dispute
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

I acknowledge blogs by the Farmers Branch mayor and one councilmember, attacking my prior article about the Farmers Branch creek dispute. It’s unfortunate to see this type of rhetoric, as it clearly doesn’t advance either town towards a resolution.  Yes, Addison and Farmers Branch were right there at a resolution, and we can probably all agree that Addison’s ex-mayor missed a great chance to resolve the matter by acting unwisely.  But then, Addison’s ex-mayor did a lot of things that were unconstructive, and Addison is doing its best to move forward.  More to the point, the current challenge remains how Farmers Branch and Addison repair their relationship, if that is a goal.  I believe and certainly hope it is for Addison.

A few comments here about the statements made in the blogs. First, the TCEQ did indeed tell Addison that Addison could drill into the Woodbine Aquifer and that it did not have to amend its permit to do so.  And, while the identity of the TCEQ employee who gave that direction is unknown (at least to me), the TCEQ has been very clear in acknowledging that this did indeed happen.  The TCEQ’s December 19, 2014 letter to Addison acknowledges it, stating: “Unfortunately, this response was not correct.”  And, according to the Dallas Morning News’ recent article, the TCEQ’s spokesperson confirmed “that TCEQ permitting staff had provided Addison with wrong information that led Addison to believe it could use the Woodbine Aquifer instead of the Trinity Aquifer without amending its water use permit.”  So, let’s not pretend that it didn’t happen.  And, let’s not pretend that the fact that it DID happen isn’t grossly unfair to Addison.

I also don’t believe the facts support a narrative that Addison never intended to drill into the Trinity Aquifer. For one thing, the permit application reflects exactly that, including because Addison’s original intent was to use groundwater to irrigate the landscaping.  After the application was submitted, Addison changed its plans and decided not to use groundwater to irrigate the landscaping.  It was at this point that Addison asked to drill into the Woodbine Aquifer.  So, the notion that Addison “never intended” to drill into the Trinity Aquifer is simply unsupported.  But more to the point, how does ascribing nefarious motives to such matters – without factual support – advance the ball for anyone?

Regarding water quality, the key is what is being sent downstream, not what the water looks like before that point. So, citing tests that compare the water as between the two aquifers isn’t the answer, because the water drawn from the aquifer mixes with the water that comes in on the east side.  It also sits in the Vitruvian pond, and thereby settles out silt and sediment.  And, the fact remains that the water that is being returned along the southern border on the west side of Vitruvian is of better quality than the water Addison takes in from Farmers Branch on the east side of Vitruvian.  Again, from the Dallas Morning News article, quoting the TCEQ spokesperson: “Otero said drilling into the Woodbine Aquifer had not caused any contamination to the Farmers Branch Creek.”  So, I stand by my challenge to the statement that Addison is polluting the creek despite an “official ruling.”  Neither is true.

To my knowledge, Addison has never denied that construction began too soon. There isn’t a thing anyone can do to change those facts.  Addison will have to pay the proverbial piper.  My further understanding is that the riparian buffer is part of the permit amendment process.  What is present complies with the 404 permit that was previously obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers.  But then, the riparian buffer was never an issue until, well… until it became expedient to find issues.

As to the canceled agreements, I decline to accept the characterization of Addison as a freeloading neighbor to whom much kindness and charity was extended. The fact is that the referenced relationships were negotiated and were the subject of contractual agreements that reflected a spirit of mutual cooperation between neighbors.  Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Addison paid $200 per Farmers Branch library card issued.  Addison also paid for half of the freezer into which the dead animals were put.  Further, Addison was paying in connection with the referenced sewer line, even in the absence of a meter.  And, while Farmers Branch has generously opened its senior center to Addison residents for a fee of $15 per year, the fact is that Farmers Branch offered the same arrangement to ALL non-residents.  At least until now.  Now, the fee to Addison residents is $500, even as it presumably remains $15 for all other non-residents. Characterizing all this as a one-way street is simply not appropriate, nor is it helpful on many levels.

Here’s the point: these longstanding interlocal agreements were not terminated because of perceived financial hardship to Farmers Branch. They were terminated because of the creek dispute.  Farmers Branch is trying to gain leverage by exerting political pressure on Addison and its council.  Period.  And that’s mighty distasteful and certainly not neighborly.  Most importantly, in my humble opinion, these actions don’t bring the two towns any closer to a resolution.

It seems obvious that the issues regarding the creek need to be resolved. But 35 years of practicing law have taught me that drawing lines in the sand doesn’t help anything.  And 7 years of service on Addison’s council taught me that riling everyone up doesn’t help anything either.  Farmers Branch is frustrated, and so is Addison.  That’s understandable.  But we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are neighbors, and we are better together than we are separately.

It’s time for everyone to take a step back. It’s time to bring Addison and Farmers Branch together again for a reasoned discussion and another attempt at a resolution, using a skilled, seasoned mediator.  Many of us agree that our ex-mayor took this in an unhelpful direction.  But we are where we are, and it’s in everyone’s interest to get this resolved and return our communities to their peaceable co-existence and a state of cooperation.

That is the Addison Way. I hope it is also the Farmers Branch Way.