Arlington oil well still seeking approval

Published 12:01 am Friday, May 18, 2012

NATCHEZ — After a lengthy discussion and objections from residents, the Natchez Planning Commission ultimately decided to continue any action on a proposed oil well at Arlington until a special call meeting on June 7.

Mike Biglane of RMB Exploration appeared before the commission Thursday to ask for approval for the oil operation, which is on the opposite side of the oil exploration the company conducted earlier this year on the historic Arlington property.

Commissioner Butch Johnson said the operation “screams no” to him. Johnson said the company conducted prior oil exploration — which turned out to be a dry hole — without the approval of the planning commission.

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“You withdrew your application the last time,” Johnson said. “I really don’t understand why this is before us, if you’re just going to drill anyway.”

Biglane said he was under the impression that everyone came to an understanding that the company would conduct the early exploration then come back for approval if they intended to set up a well.

The company proceeded with the exploration without completing the city’s procedural process to rezone the property to allow an oil operation.

The operation needs a certificate of appropriateness from the Natchez Preservation Commission because of its proximity to Arlington, rezoning approval from the Natchez Planning Commission and final approval from the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

City Planner Bob Nix has said the company was under the impression the operation was approved, because it had an oil and gas lease with the city and based on other information provided to the company by planning department staff prior to Nix being hired as city planner.

Nix has said prior to an industrial development code change in 2008, there was a longstanding history in Natchez of allowing oil operations to proceed without receiving rezoning approval.

The main issues with the operation that were brought up by the commissioners were that the operation is on a historic site, very near a residential area, as well as the concern of salt water contamination and the fact that the preservation commission has not had the opportunity to hear the application.

The preservation commission was scheduled to hear the application at its meeting May 9, but the meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum. The commission re-scheduled a meeting for 5:15 p.m. Wednesday.

Nona Colombo, a St. Charles Avenue resident, said she moved from New Orleans to Natchez after Hurricane Katrina and after a Murphy Oil Refinery oil spill flooded oil into her neighborhood. Colombo said she was part of a $330 million class action lawsuit and ultimately received $7,000 for her $150,000 house.

Colombo said she moved to Natchez for the peace and quiet and said she was concerned that an accident could occur.

“If there is an accident, it will (be in) our neighborhood,” she said. “And that is something we cannot get back.”

Colombo raised several other concerns including the fact that it seemed that the rules were being bent to allow the oil operation as a special exception, while she said she had a neighbor who was meeting opposition for the commission to install a simple addition to her house.

“We talk about having to get the color beige approved to paint our house, yet this is allowed,” Colombo said.

Biglane said he needed to begin drilling by July 1 in order to meet contractual obligations, so the commission tentatively scheduled a special call meeting to decide on the application for 5:15 p.m. June 7 in the Natchez City Council Chambers.

In other news from the meeting:

4The commission vote 4-1 to deny the application for a variance from Todd Cauthen with Delta Rentals Inc. on U.S. 61 South to request approval of a digital sign that was installed without any permits. The request for a variance was in response to a notice of violation.