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BSEACD plans to annex western Travis awaiting legislative action

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Valinda Bolton plan to sponsor a bill to annex part of western Travis County into the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.


Bill Dugat, the attorney for the BSEACD, told directors last week that district lobbyist Claudia Russell had met with staff of the two legislators to discuss the complicated legislation. For several months the BSEACD directors have been hosting town hall meetings and trying to inform the public about their plan to hold a confirmation election on the annexation question.


Elizabeth Hartman, Bolton’s Chief of Staff, told In Fact Daily, “We had started working on it last session,” adding that Bolton plans to file this year’s legislation after House committee chairs have been assigned.


Hartman said there had been some discussion about whether or not it would be necessary to have an election because there was concern about the extra cost to the district during these tough economic times. “A lot of people are thinking how can we cut costs here. We would just as soon have the election…unless it’s going to be an undue burden,” on district finances, she said.


However, Hartman said she felt confident the legislation would include an election. She stressed the need to protect groundwater in the area while reassuring homeowners that they would not be subject to fees. She said, “There are only about 800 wells in Valinda’s district and those would be exempted anyway.”


Two weeks ago, the district presented its annexation proposal to about 25 people belonging to the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods. The crowd had a range of questions and perspectives which represented a more general audience than previous presentations.


While the presentation was similar to others that have been given, the questions were more critical, and seemed to have a more encompassing understanding of what the larger role of the groundwater conservation district (GCD) would be. Responding to a question about the TCEQ mandate to cover the proposed area, Holland said that Hays Trinity GCD didn’t have resources to step in and that Blanco-Pedernales GCD employed taxes. He ventured that if the election was voted down, TCEQ would impose a new GCD which would likely need to bring taxation to the area in order to support itself.


During that presentation Holland addressed was the absence of the Lakeway area being annexed. When an audience member question why that area was being left out due to “politics or some other, technical reason,” Holland answered that it was “the former,” to a round of laughter. He told the crowd that because Lakeway primarily relied upon surface water, and was a very conservative area the board had anticipated voters there would vote against annexation because they generally were opposed to increased government and likely would not feel they had any benefit to a GCD in their area.


Holland stressed that the BSEACD was not interested in controlling development one way or the next. He and district hydrologist John Dupnik said the BSEACD had yet to reject a permit, although they had begun placing stringent conditions on them which sometimes forced potential permitees to remove their request. Dupnik said they had denied certain pumping volumes, scaling them back on occasion. It wasn’t long before an audience member drew the conclusion that if the BSEACD were allowed to permit pumping levels they could essentially dictate the size of developments.


Mark Maroney expressed concern that “Joe the Plumber with a well on his land… may get a meter slapped on his pump and eventually charged for his water.” Holland said that individual home owning plumbers would be exempt, and that any metering would be in the service of determining aquifer and pumping data, not for water usage fees.


Another element which was discussed was funding for the district. Although the BSEACD charges 17 cents per 1,000 gallons for permitees, that sum is matched by the city of Austin. Holland said, “That’s one of our uncertainties” for the annexation and told the crowd that the city was primarily interested in Barton Springs. Holland said matching funds from Austin were “under negotiations.”


Holland’s presentation and the Q&A seemed to have assuaged some concerns. Asked afterwards if he would support such an annexation Maroney told In Fact Daily he would. “I hate government, and generally think the less of it the better, but this seems like it can be a good thing for the Joe the Plumber kind of guy,” he said.

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