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Hays Commissioners approve controversial Mustang Valley plan

Monday, July 28, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

The Hays County Commissioners Court last week approved a preliminary plan for the controversial Mustang Valley subdivision by a 3-2 vote. The vote came despite concerns by the Hays Trinity Groundwater District (HTGCD) that there was not enough water in the aquifer to supply the subdivision.

Including some green space, the more than 600-acre development, essentially a re-platting of the former True Ranch subdivision, is for 77 lots over the Hays Trinity Aquifer. The area is off FM 2325 in Wimberley.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford and Judge Liz Sumter voted against the plan. There was confusion over whether or not proper procedures had been followed with the subdivision’s plan, specifically if its water availability plan had been passed on to Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District in a timely manner.

Andrew Backus, president of the HTGCD, spoke to the court about the concerns of the district. “We currently have suspended processing permits for wells that we have authority over because our management plan says we are beyond sustainable production of the aquifer and we are waiting for new data from the Texas Water Development Board, which is imminent, but is going to take us several months to process.”

The district has suspended processing for commercial wells, but still allows individual wells to be drilled. Backus told the court that the developer, Rincon, was “after a municipal supply well… so they backed up and came back with a new subdivision with individual wells. Meanwhile, all the science we have says we’re beyond sustainable production.” A commercial well is more beneficial to the county because it would be under the auspices of the groundwater conservation district, whereas individual wells are unregulated.

Jim McMeans, representing the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development spoke to the court, saying that the reduction of lots, from 438 for True Ranch, to 77 for Mustang Valley, would be beneficial to the aquifer. However, the group also pressed for rainwater collection systems, specific restrictions on “water hog grasses such as St. Augustine,” and the banning of conventional sprinkler systems. The group cited the HTGCD’s “detailed calculations that demonstrate that homes supplied with well water from the Trinity Aquifer should be sited on lots not less than nine acres…”

Al Braun, the district geologist for the HTGCD, told the court, that no technical data was made available by the developer to the groundwater district on any of the six residential wells already built on the property, which is not required. “Two wells that were used for capacity tests…were in an abbreviated report submitted to the county,” he said. Furthermore, Braun said it was only when his hydrologists requested the report from the county that they received it.

Based upon that report and the short time he had to analyze it, Braun concluded, “there are indications from the low amounts of water encountered during drilling that indeed a production test might indeed draw the aquifer down. And if it does in a short period of time, what will it do when the entire subdivision is developed?”

Hays County Counselor Mark Kennedy informed the Court that the County had met its technical criteria for a preliminary plan, which was receipt of the water availability study. Roads Superintendent Jerry Borcheding also said he had the report and that the plan can go forward while it is being reviewed.  A game of he-said-she-said then took place between the county staff, Commissioners and Groundwater District as to who had the report when and whether or not it was passed on in a timely manner.

Judge Sumter was annoyed that such a “high profile” project would not be more thoroughly vetted by the HTGCD before coming to court, saying, “We dropped the ball.”

Ford told the court she was voting based on the impact of “77 more straws” puncturing the aquifer. She said the confusion of the procedures had left her at a loss. “I don’t feel like we know if we’re following the rules or not. And me personally, I would like to know the preliminary data in an area that’s known for aquifer production…”

Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said, “we not only had staff recommendation for approval, but we followed the procedure we’ve been following on every subdivision.” He said the standard practice for the county had been making sure the water availability study had been conducting and ensuring the conservation district had reviewed it before the final plan. “If they already have their own water availability study in place before preliminary plan then we have historically…moved forward. It seemed to me there was no reason to treat these guys any differently than we treat anyone else.”

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