Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Jimmy Maas

LCRA to consider shifting watershed ordinance fees to developers

For the first time ever, the Lower Colorado River Authority may raise fees to develop within the Highland Lakes watershed. The only question seems to be how much of those fees will be passed on to developers.


The measure – up for a vote Wednesday at the LCRA’s February board of directors meeting – will determine whether the updated fees for developers will recoup 25, 50 or 100 percent of costs.


All three fee schedules were prepared for the board to weigh its options. Most members seem to be leaning toward builders paying for all of the increase.


Fees for the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance haven’t been raised since they were established in 1990, according to LCRA staff. The ordinance is designed to help maintain water quality while the shoreline was developed. Currently, fees pay for only 2 percent of the program. The rest of its $723,000 annual budget is paid for by grants, with any overruns covered by the Public Service Fund.


The proposed fee escalation was scrutinized during the board’s Water Operations Committee meeting Tuesday.


“Who benefits from this program?” asked Board Member John Franklin of Burnet County.


“I think everybody in Central Texas benefits and down the river,” said Lisa Hatzenbuehler, manager of LCRA’s Water Quality Protection division. “It’s water quality protection of the drinking water sources. It benefits the water quality for recreation and businesses around the lakes. I think everyone benefits from this program.”


“So, the fact that it’s been covered by the Public Service Fund is probably legitimate since everyone benefits,” said Franklin.


“I would have a different opinion,” said Vice Chair John Dickerson, who represents Matagorda County. “It seems to me it’s construction, it’s homes, shopping centers. I think that these permits are paying for the sedimentation and all of those issues. I know the perm water customer doesn’t to pay for this. I don’t think the electrical customer wants to pay for it through the PSF. I’ve heard that. And . . . I’m sure the irrigation customer doesn’t want to. So, it would appear to me the correct place to put this is back in construction. And I’d like to see us get more like the rest of the entities that have these ordinances that we have 100 percent full cost recovery.”


Board Member Franklin Scott Spears of Travis County agreed. “I’m leaning toward 100 percent, to be quite frank. I don’t want everybody to have sticker shock, but I don’t think it’s all that much money. If you look how we compare, if they pay 100 percent on 1 acre, it’s $2,196. Well, TCEQ Edwards is $4,000, City of Austin is $4,427 (and) City of Lakeway is $10,750.”


Currently, any standard development activities like installing rock boulders or a retaining wall to maintain the shoreline have a fee of $50, plus $10 for each acre in the development up to 100 acres. After 100 acres, the cost per acre decreases to $5.


The Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance applies to all land modification activity within the Lake Travis watershed in Travis County, the Colorado River watershed in Burnet County and a portion of Llano County. It includes construction of buildings, roads, paved storage areas and parking lots, but doesn’t stop there. Clearing of vegetative cover, excavating, dredging and filling, grading, contouring, mining and burying waste also require permitting and fees.


“I don’t think we have the luxury to give money away at this point,” said Spears. “If you’re going to build a commercial something on 1 acre, $2,196 for the permit fee is not inordinate.”


LCRA staff said the fees only apply to development in areas where the LCRA doesn’t have an interlocal agreement with a municipality.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Highland Lakes: The Texas Highland Lakes are a chain of six lakes formed by dams on the lower Colorado River. Managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority the lakes are: Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis and Lake Austin.

Lower Colorado River Authority: The quasi-governmental organization charged with, among other key items, regulating water policy for the Lower Colorado River--the body of water that runs through the heart of Austin. The creation of the organization in 1934--and the eventual series of dams it built--helped send electricity to portions of the Texas Hill Country.

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