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Aquifer district halts Higginbotham’s

Wednesday, June 14, 2000 by

well testing till more information obtained

Engineer Murfee tells board member water is for two, off-site subdivisions

The board of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) voted Tuesday to demand more information from Hays County landowner T.J. Higginbotham about any proposals for use of the 50 million gallons per year he has requested to pump from a new well on his property. "Until such information is furnished, the District will take no further action on the well test," according to the resolution approved by the board on a 3-1 vote. Voting in favor of the resolution were Board President Craig Smith and Board Members Jim Camp and Jack Goodman. Board member Don Turner voted no, after trying to derail the motion several times. Bill Welch was absent.

Last month a divided board approved Higginbotham's test well in spite of unanswered questions about the water's possible use. ( In Fact Daily May 3, 2000) However, board members later received information from the media and from George Murfee, president of Murfee Engineering Co., indicating that Higginbotham's water would be taken out of the district to serve new subdivisions close to Dripping Springs.

Goodman said, "I responded to a call from George Murfee, (who wanted) to lobby me for approval of the 50 million gallons so he could serve those subdivisions." Goodman said Murfee told him Rutherford Rim and Greenhawe, two proposed subdivisions, would have "low density development, which (Murfee) said the environmental community would like. He offered this information to me," last week.

Referring to the Free Press, which first uncovered letters from Murfee detailing plans to use Higginbotham's water for the subdivisions, Goodman said, "He said yeah, they got a copy of the letter from me (to Dripping Springs and Hays County)." Both letters are dated April 25, more than a week before the board granted Higginbotham's application to drill a well to test the water availability on his 47-acre property, which is on FM 967.

At the time the application was granted, Jimmy Alan Hall, Higginbotham's attorney, said, "What we would like to do, in our initial look at the property, (is) a commercial development with a large commercial tenant. But one of their first questions was, 'Do you have enough water?'" Hall said he could not give any specifics on the prospective tenant. He said Higginbotham's "default position" would be to provide service to an apartment complex.

Smith told Hall at the time, "I'm having trouble believing we're being dealt with in good faith. It looks like you'll say whatever you need to say to get the permit."

Smith then tried to get the board to postpone the matter. However, that was the last meeting for two board members, Roy Dalton and Lois Franklin. Smith could not convince them to put the matter off. Since then, Jim Camp, who helped form the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, has been elected and taken a seat on the board.

Last night, Smith told fellow board members that they could not revoke Higginbotham's application because such action might violate the state's Open Meetings Act. Smith, who is an attorney, said he had discussed the possibility of revoking the permit with the board's attorney and was told such an action would have to be posted. The board agenda said only "discussion and possible action on the T.J. Higginbotham well permit."

Phil Savoy, who works for Murfee Engineering, said, "We have been retained and are responsible for (doing) a water availability study for T.J. Higginbotham. We have conducted a pump test to determine whether that tract would be impacted by a drought. There is no contract" between Higginbotham and the owners of the two properties (Rutherford Rim and Greenhawe). Savoy said that the idea of Higginbotham's well providing water to the two new developments was just "speculative. The land Camp is referring to (Greenhawe) has a contract with the LCRA ( Lower Colorado River Authority)."

Smith said he doubted that. The LCRA has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will limit its ability to provide water to new subdivisions.

Smith asked Hall directly if he knew of any plans to send the water off-site and Hall said, "None that I am aware of."

Several members of the public offered negative opinions of Higginbotham, Hall and the well. Debbie Bates said, "I am pissed at this string of deception and lies…The applicants seem awfully intelligent to not know some of these things. Are Mr. Hall and Mr. Savoy the only ones who didn't know about Murfee's plan? If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. We've been lied to!"

Denise Marks said, "I resent being lied to and treated as if I am stupid." She also pointed out that controlling this situation is very important to the district to maintain credibility with the public. If Higginbotham "gets rich selling water," while others are asked not to take daily showers, the district will lose credibility, she said.

Ron Fieseler, the district's field operations program manager, said Higginbotham had drilled a production well and an observation well on the property. Several members of the public expressed dismay that two wells had been drilled. However, Stovy Bowlin, district manager, said he had approved the observation well himself since it is a routine matter.

Nico Hauwert, the district's hydrogeologist said Murfee Engineering has "done a couple of tests. They'll have to do a hydrogeological test for our purposes, but haven't scheduled to do it yet."

Asked the results of those tests, Hauwert said there was "some drawdown in the wells nearby. We haven't analyzed all the data. You'd have to put it in the context of how long they pumped," which has not been done yet, he said. The remaining tests cannot now be done until the board receives the requested information from Higginbotham.

Hall told In Fact Daily that he was unaware of the information contained in Murfee's letters to Dripping Springs until last week. Hall said his client would provide information to the district, as requested. However, he said there is no contract, offer or proposal from any prospective user of water from the well, as far as he knows.

CAMPO votes for SH 130

without designating a route

Mayor Watson and Commissioner Baxter break with local majority

The route of State Highway 130 will be up to a higher authority as a result of the Monday night vote by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Policy Advisory Committee.

Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Todd Baxter broke with other members of the Austin City Council and the Commissioners Court in voting to recommend that SH 130 be included in the area's 2025 roadway plan without designating an eastern alignment.

An earlier motion to designate an eastern alignment, offered by Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, failed on a vote of 10 for, 11 against, according to Elizabeth Beckam of CAMPO.

Voting in favor of Sonleitner's motion were: Sonleitner, Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, Austin City Council Members Gus Garcia, Bill Spelman, and Willie Lewis, Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright, and State Representatives Dawnna Dukes, Sherri Greenberg, Elloitt Naishtat, and Glen Maxey.

Voting against the motion were: Watson, Baxter, Westlake Hills Mayor Dwight Thompson, Round Rock City Council Member Tom Nielson (who was there for Mayor Robert Stluka), State Representatives Mike Krusee and Terry Keel, State Senators Gonzalo Barrientos and Jeff Wentworth, Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett, Capital Metro Board Member John Treviño and Bill Garbade, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Newsletter sold… In Fact News Inc. has purchased In Fact Daily and In Fact Weekly from Panache Publishing Inc. The president of In Fact News Inc. is reporter Jo Clifton, who has written for the newsletter since the fall of 1998. With the purchase, Clifton becomes editor of In Fact Daily and In Fact Weekly. The editorial number will be 441-9680. Clifton's e-mail address will be editor@infactdaily.com. Ken Martin will continue to report for the newsletter, although his primary focus will be to continue editing The Good Life, the magazine Martin founded with wife and Publisher Rebecca Melançon in October 1997. Martin and Melançon founded the newsletter as a weekly in July 1995 and took it daily in July 1999. Martin's e-mail address will be editor@goodlifemag.com and his phone remains 474-1022. Pam Fridrich has been named business manager for the newsletter and the new business office number will be 312-5065. Clifton says, "I intend to carry on the newsletter's fine tradition of thorough, accurate, in-depth coverage of city hall and local politics." Martin says, "The growth of The Good Life has been gratifying and it has gotten to the point where it needs much more of my attention. Look for the magazine to become much more involved in politics and the big issues of the day." The Good Life publishes 15,000 copies per month and is distributed to some 260 locations in Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, San Marcos and Lakeway… The music connection…A new nonstop flight starts tomorrow, linking the Live Music Capital of the World to the city that hosts the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Departing passengers can take the first flight to Cleveland, Ohio, aboard a Continental Airlines Boeing 737-500, leaving at 6:13 a.m. and arriving at Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport at 10:18 a.m. Return flights leave Cleveland at 7:35 p.m. and arrive in Austin at 9:30 p.m… Musicians wanted…Speaking of airports and music, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Sonic One are looking for Austin musicians who want their CDs played at the airport. For more info, e-mail david@sonicone.com or call 443-7114… Regionalism program set…On Tuesday, June 27, The Case for Regionalism will be presented by Theodore Hershberg, professor of public policy and history at the University of Pennsylvania. Hershberg is also the director and founder of the Center for Greater Philadelphia and a noted champion of regionalism. The luncheon program will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and is sponsored by the Downtown Austin Alliance. Seating is limited. RSVP by June 21 by e-mailing rsvp@downtownaustin.com or call 469-1766.

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