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Gray vs. Camp contest offers a clear choice for seat on aquifer district board

Monday, May 1, 2000 by

Candidates offer opposing views on growth and surface water

The future of growth and commercial development in Northern Hays County may be determined by Saturday's election of a new director to the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD). Judging by the number of campaign signs plastered all over Buda, starting at the I-35 frontage road and running up and down the side roads in and out of town, a lot of money's being pumped into a race that will determine how much water will be pumped out of the ground.

Candidate Ben Gray is owner of a company that offers repair and maintenance service for rural water and wastewater systems. His opponent Jim Camp works for a company that publishes college textbooks and he co-founded the Hays County Water Planning Partnership.

Both Camp and Gray are longtime residents of Northern Hays County. They each seek the Hays County seat now occupied by Lois Franklin. The other directors appointed Franklin in January 1999 to serve the unexpired term of her late husband, Neil Franklin. She is moving to Florida this week, a few days before the Saturday election.

Board Chairman Roy Dalton is retiring. The only candidate for Dalton's seat is Bill Welch, a commercial Realtor. The other board members are Jack Goodman and Craig Smith of Austin and Don Turner of far south rural Travis County.

Smith said, "There are always two representatives of Austin, two representatives of the unincorporated parts of Travis County and one representative from Hays County, and traditionally that representative has held the balance on the board." Goodman said, "Gray seems to be a very strong advocate for the GBRA ( Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority) and LCRA ( Lower Colorado River Authority) water lines, while Camp puts a lot of his emphasis on conservation of the existing resource. So people have to decide if they want an unlimited supply of water, (in which case) their way of life will be forever changed," or if they want to preserve the existing way of life. Goodman said a new surface water line in the immediate future "will allow northern Hays County to grow with reckless abandon."

Camp describes himself as "a businessman with a strong conservation ethic. I'm realistic about population projections and growth and I think I have solutions to sustain this water resource (the aquifer) for as long as we need it."

Gray says, "I'm in the water and wastewater business. Water is the most precious commodity. It's just a fact of life. You could do without electricity. You could do without the telephone, and you could do without the cable TV. But you cannot do without water."

"As this area grows," Gray said, "I feel like the aquifer is able to accommodate growth as it occurs, but I think we need to have more than one source of water for the area. Also, as this area grows and the school system increases, we're going to need to bring in additional clean commercial industry to increase the tax base."

"First and foremost, I must look out for the people. But I don't think it needs to be a win or lose situation. I think all parties can win and one way would be to bring in surface water that's reliable, so we could accommodate the growth as far as industry."

Camp said, "My opponent and his supporters'…main motivation is to put somebody on the board that will acquiesce to the developers and water-supply companies' wishes. I'm representing everyday citizens (whose) only financial interest is the quantity and quality of water coming into their homes, and the family ranchers and the conservationists who want to see more quality development and the protection of their only water source."

Attorney Dale Linebarger, who supports Camp, said he has known the candidate for the past 15 years. Camp has been involved in water issues and environmental protection for many years, he said. Linebarger said Camp "brings a reasoned voice to the issues. The issues are regulation of the Edwards underground aquifer and growth in this area." Linebarger, whose home is between Chaparral Park and Southwest Territory in Northern Hays County, said, "People whose names I've seen who are supporting Mr. Gray do appear to be more involved in promoting development." Linebarger, whose wife, Libby Linebarger, a Democrat, is a former state representative, said he expected a light turnout for the election.

Camp said, "A central question to me, and to many people who live out here is, how could it not be a conflict of interest for him (Gray) to sit on a board that regulates the very companies that he does business with?"

Gray told In Fact Daily if he is elected he believes that he can make impartial decisions even regarding water companies that he does business with. Gray said he chose his campaign treasurer, Debbie Thames, because she is a friend and has been his insurance agent since he moved to Buda. Thames is married to developer Michael Thames. Speaking of Camp, Gray said, "He says I'm in the hip pocket of the developers," but Gray said that is not the case.

John Hatch, executive director of Buda's equivalent of a chamber of commerce, Buda Area Citizens for Economic Growth, called In Fact Daily to say he supports Gray. Hatch said he worked with Gray and his brother, Billy Gray, "in the wet-dry election so HEB would move to Buda." Billy Gray is on the Buda City Counci l.

"From an economic development standpoint, you can't stop the growth. You have to plan for it. The residential growth is going to happen (and) the school district is going to get those kids. We're very residential rich and commercial poor….We want to be able to bring in good clean industry, and having a safe reliable water supply is part of it," Hatch said.

Sue Johnson, former chair of the BSEACD, said, "The future health of the aquifer depends on this race. You want the candidate that you think will best protect the aquifer."

There are about 2,000 voters in Precinct 1, Camp said.

Environmental trade fair…The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission hosts an Environmental Trade Fair and Conference starting today at the Austin Convention Center, beginning with an open class at 10:30 a.m. The lunch at 11:30 a.m. features speeches by two lawmakers on the Sunset Advisory Commission, State Representative Fred Bosse, chair, and State Senator Chris Harris, vice chair. The Texas Excellence Environmental Awards will be presented Tuesday night, May 2, at a banquet. For more info, call 239-3150… Help set priorities…The public is invited to comment tomorrow night on the city's priorities for building everything from streets to libraries, in connection with the city manager's 2000-2001 Capital Improvements Program Plan. The Planning Commission and Bond Oversight Committee will conduct the public hearing at 7 p.m. at Waller Creek Center, 625 E. 10th St., Room 104. The plan calls for some $72 million in new appropriations for General Obligation Bond Projects, as well as recommendations for non-tax-supported enterprise departments. Copies are available at Austin Public Libraries. The Bond Oversight Committee is to present its views May 18. The Planning Commission is scheduled to make recommendations June 6. The city manager is to make his final recommendation to the City Council in July, for public hearings by the council in July. For more info, call Georgia Sanchez at 499-2610… Downtown workshops…The International Downtown Association will hold its spring workshop May 6-8 in Austin with the theme, Moving Downtown into the Information Age. For more info, call the Downtown Austin Alliance at 469-1766… Happy b-day Villager… The Villager, a community service weekly newspaper focusing mainly on African Americans, celebrates its 27th anniversary May 13 with a banquet at Givens Recreation Center, 3811 E. 12th St. A dozen organizations will be honored for service to the community. For more info call Dorothy Charles Banks at 476-0082… And happy b-day ABIA…The city's Austin-Bergstrom International Airport celebrates its first year in operation May 23. Register for free seven pairs of free round-trip airline tickets May 15-22 at the Visitor's Center on the baggage claim level and the Center Stage near Gate 9. Mayor Kirk Watson will draw winning names at 10 a.m. May 23 at Center Stage, accompanied by musician Tish Hinijosa and her band. for more info, call Jamy Kazanoff at 530-6681 or Jackie Mayor at 530-6618… Key raises cash… Karrie Key, Democratic Party candidate for the 390th District Court, reports raising more than $40,000 at her April 25 fund-raiser. Her opponent in the general election is Julie Kocurek, a Republican appointed by Governor George W. Bush.

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