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Aquifer district votes to oppose

Tuesday, May 1, 2001 by

Cypress Realty district legislation

District would be 2,700 acres over the recharge zone

After more than three hours of public discussion, directors of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) voted last night to tell the Legislature they oppose legislation by Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) creating a water district in the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. More than 60 people attended the district meeting, with most speakers expressing fears about the effect HB 3641 would have on the aquifer and Hays County.

Green came to the meeting too, hoping, he said, to clear up misconceptions about the legislation. He said, “There’s a lot of confusion.” He said HB 3641, 3628, 3629 and 3684 are “all being lumped into one particular category. Not one of these bills circumvents the authority of this board or any other entity.”

Speaking of HB 3641, which creates a water district on 2,700 acres of land owned by Cypress Realty, he said, the legislation will “provide us with opportunities to have good, quality development, to get the infrastructure we need, so we can have sewer instead of septic. If you want, we can have trailer parks on all of these (properties).”

Roger Kew, manager of the Radiance Water Supply Corp. said the minimum size for lots over the recharge zone is 3 acres on public water and 5 acres on wells. He said the legislation would allow Cypress to build one home per acre instead. Kew argued that land valued at $11 million, the price paid by Cypress, would not be home to any trailers.

Kew said Radiance and Goldenwood West Water Supply were both concerned about the possibility of being required to supply water for the 2700 new homes, and likewise were worried about the District forcing them to use its water and sewer facilities.

Hays County landowner Ira Yates said he had read the legislation on the Internet. He concluded, “The people owning this land are going to benefit greatly (from the legislation) and that’s true of all the districts.” He noted that HB 3641 said, “‘The district is created to serve a public use and benefit.’ That’s one of the biggest lies I’ve ever heard—what public is going to benefit? The five voters who live in the trailers on septic tanks who are going to vote for the board?”

Yates also cited a May 2000 report from the American Farmland Trust’s Cost of Community Services in Hays County, which shows that, “residential lands do not provide enough tax revenue for the county to cover the costs of public services.”

“This project, a residential project, is bad county planning, and this proposed district is bad government,” Yates said. Any special legislation for Hays County should be close to “existing roadways, away from the water source for thousands of people and not on prime agricultural lands at the expense of the rest of the Hays County taxpayers,” he concluded.

Yates said when he tried to sell some of his property, “I couldn’t be paid what I thought my land was worth because the guy who had the (legislatively-created) district could develop the land cheaper. So I had to sell cheaper. It damages my property rights and yours. The district is going to pollute and all you can do as a board is speak up the best you can.”

Steve Clark of Cypress Realty told the directors, “We own 2,724 acres that we are currently planning and taking through a process to get (US) Fish & Wildlife to approve . . . Our bill . . . has all of the standard powers that are currently provided to water districts, plus: One, it can be split into three smaller districts, for ease of control; two, other things probably more meaningful—there’s a slight expansion of our ability—we’ve expanded our ability to get reimbursed for environmental set-asides. For whatever we set aside in excess of whatever’s required by the Endangered Species Act, we have the ability to be reimbursed from the bonds . . . Dripping Springs restricted our ability to annex property and if we went through TNRCC it would be less restrictive. Our main interest is the environmental reimbursement. If the bill doesn’t happen, we’ll go through the TNRCC process.”

Board President Craig Smith, said, “my understanding is that there wouldn’t be an election for 3 years. Why not?

Sue Littlefield, attorney for Cypress, said, “There will be a confirmation election as soon as the development process is through and we know what we need to do.” She and Clark said the development and entitlement process would be lengthy—perhaps two years.

Littlefield, with Armbrust Brown & Davis, said Clark does not yet know where the 2700 homes will get water. Lobbyist Dick Brown, who observed the proceedings, said he is also helping Cypress in the Legislature.

In making the motion, Director Jim Camp noted, “I am the director from Pct. 1, which encompasses all of the area of the recharge zone. I have received in the past few days numerous comments and email from people concerned about more government, more development, and more impact on the recharge zone.” Camp said he is concerned about “the idea of putting any more districts on the aquifer recharge zone. I’m not sure we would even need an aquifer district in the future—because there would not be an aquifer to protect. I’ve been in Hays Co for more than 20 years . . . I’m concerned that we’re really hurting the resource.”

Camp offered a motion, “To meet with legal counsel and to state objections to HB 3641 and offer recommendations to Rep. Green and appropriate committees and to study the others.”

Director Jack Goodman said, “I tend to disagree with you. I don’t think we’re going to come to any sort of agreement with them. I’d rather your motion was just opposing these bills.” However, Smith weighed in on Camp’s side, and the motion was approved 3-1, with Director Don Turner voting no and Director Bill Welch absent.

Turner, who has been out of step with a the majority of the board since the election of Camp last spring, said, “I blame the people in Austin for running people out here. I figured since I could afford it, everybody else should be able to afford it . . . The ones that don’t want development, let them dig deep in their pocket and buy this land for the rabbits and the deer.”

Austin lobbyist and activist Mike Blizzard said SB 1771, the companion to HB 3641, has passed the Senate and been sent to the House. HB 3641 was pulled off the Local and Consent Calendar after several members objected that the bill was not entirely local and was too controversial for consent. Green is trying to put the bill back on that same calendar, but if he fails the bill will join the queue for the regular House calendar, he said.

Bradleyville bill

Green briefly addressed legislation to create a district on Gary Bradley’s Spillar Ranch. He said of HB 3684 and its companion SB 1812, “It is amazing to me that anybody would be against that and a million dollar windfall for the children of Hays Co. I’m assuming that if you’re against it you live in Austin, not in Hays Co. I have yet to have any objection from anybody who lives in Hays Co.” The Senate bill and SB 1823, which creates a development district in Hays County, are scheduled for a hearing at 8 a.m. today in the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations in Room E1.028.

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, said, “(The Bradley legislation) is of interest to the board because it does tie the success of a development and its golf course (with its pesticides and fertilizers that pollute the aquifer) . . . to education and so, it’s a direct link—it forces people to choose between education and the aquifer. Everyone’s in favor of education of the people of Hays County. Linking those together, I think, is very, very bad policy and I hope you will put it on the next agenda.”

Laurie Cromwell, president of the Hays Education Foundation said, “SB 1812 and its companion HB 3641are “for the sole purpose of collecting tax revenue” for the benefit of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District. If the bill is killed, she said, “It will not affect the development being developed . . . the draft that you see that is being pursued in the legislature was drafted by Mayor Watson with input from (Hays County ) Judge Powers and me.” (See In Fact Daily, April 18, April 26 & April 27, 2001.) City governmental relations officer John Hrncir noted that the City Council has not approved the bill.

SB 1619 and SB 1620, which are Armbrister’s companions to Green’s bills creating more water districts in Hays County, are scheduled for hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee today at 2pm. The hearing will be in the Senate Chamber.

Slusher to propose

Native plant strategy

Plan would reduce use of chemicals over the aquifer, he says

Council Member Daryl Slusher said last week he intends to introduce a proposal for landscape management involving the use of native plants that do not require as much water or chemical treatment as non-natives. “As we know, we have existing pollution in our streams and rivers” from lawn fertilizers and chemicals that seep through the aquifer very quickly and end up in Barton Springs, he said.

Slusher said he has received “probably over a hundred” e-mail messages from residents of the Travis Country subdivision saying no to more development over the Edwards Aquifer. “It's always heartening to get new converts to the cause,” he said. But how can they send e-mails like this, he asked, when they put fertilizer on their lawns that ends up in Barton Creek and Barton Springs?

In an effort to improve the situation, Slusher said he wants to provide incentives to reduce chemical use over the aquifer. His intention is to “cut back on the amount of pollution we already have,” he said. To this end, he wants to see fertilizer products certified safe for use over the aquifer, perhaps entire stores or sections of stores “that say, if you use these products you won't be polluting our streams.”

He said he has already discussed the matter with and won agreement from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Last week the Council also voted to extend mandatory watering restrictions to a year-round schedule. Wasting water by letting it flow out into the street or failing to repair broken sprinkler heads will now subject citizens to a fine, even in winter months.

Prior to the vote, Austan Librach, director of Transportation, Planning and Design Department, urged the Council to expand the city's water conservation program. “We're recommending we have that in place year ‘round because conservation does make good sense,” he said.

Slusher agreed, noting that Austin is known around the country for having advanced policies in areas such as conservation. Even if the beleaguered Ullrich water main were working perfectly, he said, the city still needs to practice water conservation. “It's just environmentally sound,” he concluded.

If it had not sprouted leaks from faulty welds soon after it opened last October, the Ullrich main would be providing the city with a capacity of 250 million gallons of water a day, 10 percent more than currently available.

The $16 million water line is shut down for repairs and city officials say it probably will not be available in time for summer's peak demand. Mayor Kirk Watson said he wanted to make sure the water main is operational as soon as possible and the parties responsible for the faulty joint welds are held accountable.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo . . . At Plaza Saltillo on Saturday from 10 am to 10 pm. This free family-friendly event includes free piñatas, arts & crafts; a showcase of low-rider cars, bikes and motorcycles; food by local chefs; talent by local teen and adult troupes and bands; info booths about SMART Growth, Housing & Jobs; and games like Pct. 4's "Dunk the Deputy" booth. Drop by for a tattoo, taco and a cold soft drink benefiting local residents and community groups like the East Cesar Chavez Team, Hispanic Institute's Mothers' Day corsages, and the Allison Soccer Team. Free Parking at East 5th and Waller –just a short walk to and from Pecan Street Festival . . . Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) Asks Governor to veto teen driving law . . YCT says legislation that has been approved by both the Senate and the House “would excessively restrict the freedom of young Texans to drive.” Marc Levin, YCT vice chairman, said Monday that restrictions would apparently apply for only six months after a person between 16 and 18 has acquired a driver’s license. However, he said the bill is still confusing and burdensome. SB 577, sponsored by Sen. Teel Bivens, also requires 50 hours of supervised driving, as opposed to the current requirement of 7 hours, before a regular license can be issued . . . City watching zoning legislation. . . SB 1398 by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) would prevent cities from rezoning property if the change results in a devaluation of 25 percent or more, unless the owner agrees or fails to object. Under the proposal, the property owner would be able to sue the city as if the land had been condemned. The legislation has been approved by the Senate and is pending in the House Land and Resource Management Committee. A spokesperson for the committee said the bill is tentatively scheduled for a hearing next week Austin’s governmental relations officer John Hrncir said the city has opposed the legislation, which would be very costly.

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