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'Don't Drill the Hills' Sues City Over Leases for Fracking in Parks, Cemetery

The leases were offered in violation of a citizen-backed charter amendment that prohibits the city from selling, leasing or converting park land for non-recreation or non-conservation uses without voter approval.

The nonpatisan grassroots group "Don't Drill the Hills" is suing the city of Rochester Hills over leases that allow gas and oil exploration in city parks and a cemetery. (Patch file photo)
The nonpatisan grassroots group "Don't Drill the Hills" is suing the city of Rochester Hills over leases that allow gas and oil exploration in city parks and a cemetery. (Patch file photo)

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).”

Additional information about Don’t Drill the HIlls is found on the group’s web site, Don’tDrillTheHills.org and on Facebook.

Erin May 20, 2014 at 11:02 AM
Cheryl - I think I figured it out. Roch Media reposted this Patch article - first calling it an OP/Ed from a contributor, then saying it was a reprint of a Don't Drills press release - neither which is true, then it started taking on comments/complaints about it, and misunderstandings clearly from comments. I'm sure they just pulled it because of all the confusion. I think it was an honest mistake. I'm guessing they'll probably write something at a later date.
Steve Krause May 20, 2014 at 04:09 PM
A couple of things: Has the mayor and city council ever explained why they think drilling for gas and oil will be a good thing for Rochester Hills? Also, there is one gentleman at every council meeting that is pro drilling. Why would any resident welcome this industrial mess into their own community? Bizarre.
Marjorie Findley May 22, 2014 at 12:27 PM
MEETING TONIGHT May 22nd 6:30p @ Novi Public Library -- join us ! -- Jim Nash, Water Resource Commissioner for Oakland County is speaking out against drilling and fracking due to numerous issues non of which are favorable to residents.
Steve Krause May 23, 2014 at 11:22 AM
Did anyone make it to the meeting? How did it go? I attended the one in Rochester Hills a while back and found it informative. About 250 people showed up.
Marjorie Findley May 24, 2014 at 10:53 AM
Attendance was moderate, someone cited conservative residents (?) but as usual informative. Q & A was lively as there was 'that guy' in the audience who played the part of oil/gas and Hall Fitch who have decided to decline participating in these WRC town hall events. Residents would be wise to learn about this topic now --- which is a water/ human issue that affects EVERYONE --- rather than waiting till it's in their backyard and then too late. Next Town Hall meeting is June 24th in Farmington. DNR continues to lease land for drilling in our area: last auction May 1st, next is Oct. 29,2014.

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