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Buda Council tables huge water contract

Friday, July 25, 2003 by

Residents, aquifer distrct discourage action

Reacting to opposition from area residents and a request from the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), the Buda City Council voted unanimously last night to table action on a proposed $4.2 million water contract with CHA Utilities.

The contract would have supplied an estimated 100 million gallons of water per year from the T.J. Higginbotham well, which takes its water from the aquifer. District hydrologist Joe Beery told the Council that a 50 million gallon pump test of the well was not adequate to show that it could even produce that much water—let alone the 100 million gallons promised in the contract. Beery concluded, “The district requests that you table this item until you’re looking at a completed well.”

Seventy-four year old Buda resident Tommy Poer said, “I have a big concern about the aquifer. You can dig more wells, but you’re still pumping out of the same aquifer.” Several other Hays County residents expressed the same concern. In order to provide the water to Buda, the utility would pump an average of 277,800 gallons per day for Buda’s use. Under the contract, Buda would pay a monthly minimum of $17,688 for 20 years—even if it were not using the approximately eight million gallons of water per month specified in the contract.

Poer and others also expressed concern over the cost of the water. City Manager Tom Mathis laid out the contract to the Council and said due to the cost, the contract is “not necessarily the best option for the city.” Buda would be obligated to pay $2.12 per thousand gallons for the first 8,334,000 gallons delivered per calendar month. He added that CHA would be willing to charge on an annual basis, however, to account for summer periods when usage is heavy. He said the contract would not increase water rates.

Keith Marks, a neighbor of Higginbotham’s, said he had experienced a well running dry as a teen-ager and never wanted to go through that again. He asked the Council for a guarantee they would hook him up to the city water supply at no charge if the pumpage from the Higginbotham well seriously diminished his water supply. Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance also urged the Council not to sign the contract, citing dangers to the Barton Springs and nearby wells from over-pumping and the uncertainty of the supply in case of drought. He said, “If this is a short-term solution, it seems like 20 years is quite a long time.”

When the Council asked for a representative of water company, Pat Reilly, regional manager for ECO Resources, Inc. stepped up to answer questions. Reilly explained that ECO Resources would actually operate and manage the well—after acquiring CHA Utilities from its owners, Austin attorney Latius Prikryl and Thom Farrell, Mayor of Rollingwood. Reilly said the group had set up a meeting with representatives of the aquifer district for next week. He said CHA owns a lease on the well, but does not own the land.

Councilmember Cathy Chilcote asked Reilly whether he had any conversations with representatives of an asphalt plant about providing water to the plant. The proposed asphalt plant at Ruby Ranch will need a lot of water for its operation, a fact highlighted in information put out by the Hays County Water Planning Partnership, which opposes the plant. Reilly said he had heard the rumor that CHA might be planning to provide water to the asphalt plant, but “There is no truth to that at all.” He said ECO Resources is a subsidiary of Southwest Water Company, which services Leander as well as other communities in Texas, New Mexico and California.

ECO Resources, said hydrologist Joe Beery with the BSEACD, had just contacted the aquifer district on Thursday and still had many hoops to jump through before the district would be ready to issue a permit for the requested amount of water.

Buda has a contract with the BSEACD that supplies the city’s current needs and is awaiting surface water from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. However, it could be two years before the surface water is available.

Aquifer district to contest

Ruby Ranch asphalt plant

The offices of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) were filled wall-to-wall last night with residents of the Ruby Ranch subdivision and surrounding areas pleading for the district’s help to block a proposed asphalt plant and rock crushing operation on FM 967 from receiving an air quality permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. And while district officials expressed serious reservations about the asphalt plant, they also warned the residents that the district’s authority was extremely limited since the operators of the proposed plant have not sought water from the BSEACD. Board President Jim Camp said the district has an informal meeting on Monday with representatives of KBDJ, the proposed operator of the plant.

Ruby Ranch residents are skeptical of the claim by KBDJ, that it would be able to operate without using water from the Edwards Aquifer. “The amount of water that this plant is going to require . . . We’re wondering where this water is going to come from,” said Al Gmitter of the Ruby Ranch Homeowners Association. “How much is that going to affect not just our wells, but the whole area? Once they use this water, where is it going to go?” Gmitter is one of the founders of NOPE ( Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment), an organization formed in response to the threat from the asphalt plant.

KBDJ proposes to operate the plant 24/7, generating an estimated 1,000 truck trips a day on two-lane FM 967 between Buda and FM 1826. NOPE has hired legal counsel to prepare a challenge to the air quality permit.

There are two wells on the property in question, but they are only permitted for domestic use. “We’re being told they’re not going to be used for this project,” said General Manager Veva McCaig. “The water that’s going to be used is surface water runoff. That’s what they told us. If they start using the wells that are on the property, they no longer are exempt.” The wells would then have had “a change in use and they would have to come in and get permitted.” That prompted an uproar from neighbors, who are convinced the operators of the plant will seek out groundwater from some source after it is built. “It is impossible for a company of any type of this size not to use a large amount of water,” said Angela Mireles. “I’d like to ask you to do anything that you can do to look into the future to help us prevent it from getting established. Once it’s established, there will be variances.”

Residents of Ruby Ranch and the surrounding area have organized quickly over the past three weeks since the first notice was posted that KDBJ is seeking an air quality permit. About 60 people filled the tiny meeting room at BSEACD headquarters, and the overflow crowd in the parking lot at one point reached nearly 100. Many of the residents urged the board to do anything it could to block the plant, with some shouting their comments through open windows when it came their turn to speak. In addition to the possible impact on water quality, they are worried about the noise and traffic that would come with an industrial use so close to a residential area. They’re planning to take their concerns to the TCEQ, the state agency which would issue an air quality permit. That will take two avenues. The homeowners have requested a public meeting on the permit, and are also submitting a request for a contested hearing. That is a more formal meeting, similar to a trial, in which both the applicant and neighbors present their information. Neighbors are also asking State Representative Patrick Rose and State Senator Jeff Wentworth to request a contested hearing from the agency since their requests carry significant weight. Rose has already indicated that he is seeking a public meeting.

Camp reminded the crowd that while board members sympathized with their concerns, they would need to make their case to the TCEQ. “I represent you all in this area, and I can’t think of a worse place to put an industrial operation,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to investigate and get all the facts and then find out what we can do.” Board Member Jack Goodman stressed that the district did not have authority to stop the asphalt plant on its own. “The Legislature did not grant us any kind of land use authority,” he said. “Therefore we cannot tell somebody they cannot build something. If they want water from us, we can do something. If runoff from their place is going to contaminate the aquifer, we can do something.”

After nearly two hours of testimony and discussion, Board Member Craig Smith proposed a resolution directing the district staff to draft a letter requesting a contested hearing on the permit before the TCEQ. The resolution passed on a vote of 5-0. Neighbors say they will continue to take their concerns to elected officials in both Dripping Springs and Hays County. The proposed plant would be in Dripping Springs’ ETJ.

City staff detail roadblocks To pedestrian improvements Members of the Planning Commission got an update Wednesday night on the city's bicycle and pedestrian master plans. City staff explained the city's efforts to develop bicycle and pedestrian paths, their funding source and outlined some of the difficulties facing the city in those areas.

Even something as seemingly innocuous as installing a sidewalk to improve access for people in wheelchairs can be controversial, said Linda DuPriest, with the city’s Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department. She told commissioners that in neighborhoods without sidewalks, homeowners frequently believe their property extends all the way to the curb and are resistant to the city installing a sidewalk that could take up some of that space. However, since the city places a priority on improving mobility for people in wheelchairs, DuPriest said the city would frequently outline the need for the sidewalk to homeowners and try to win their support. Fellow staff member Jesus Lardizabal told commissioners that tactic was usually successful. “In the past, we’ve been able to talk to them and explain what’s going on,” he said, “and basically get the neighborhood behind the sidewalk.”

Staff also stressed that one of the city’s priorities was getting developers to build sidewalks in front of newly constructed homes or businesses, even if those sidewalks don’t immediately connect to other sidewalks. That prompted a question from Commissioner David Sullivan about administrative waivers from that policy. Sullivan said he had recently received two complaints from citizens on that issue. DuPriest responded that those waivers were made after the review of a project by her office. “We feel the pedestrian or the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) coordinator should be in on every review and that the final site plan should be signed off by them,” DuPriest said. “That’s an institutional change that’s a dream of ours that we would like to see happen over time.”

Lardizabal agreed that additional input regarding ADA compliance issues would be preferable. “We don’t necessarily want to be another sign-off or another stopping point, we would like to be included in the decision-making process for the waiver,” he said. “We just want to provide input.”

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

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