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Monday, January 31, 2011

'Far out' report suggests renaming I-35 segment between Georgetown and Buda


The draft report, in perhaps its loftiest flight of fancy, suggests that the tolls likewise be removed from the extension of Texas 130 between Mustang Ridge and Interstate 10 near Seguin, a segment under construction right now by a private consortium at a cost of more than $1 billion


Note:
For you commuters and road and transportation wonks, here's an update from the Austin American-Statesman's Ben Wear on some of the 'way out there' discussions taking place about the future of I-35. Thanks to an alert RoundUp reader for forwarding the story. Here's the link to Mr. Wear's report.

Taking it one fun step further – if a contest were launched for the renaming of a segment of 35 running through Austin, what you name it?

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Wear at
bwear@statesman.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Ben Wear: Getting There

Updated: 5:17 a.m. Monday, Jan. 31, 2011
Published: 8:47 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011

So a state report last week suggested that Interstate 35 and the Texas 130 tollway swap names and roles and, to some degree, tolls. You've heard the expression "out of the box."

This one is an area code removed from the box. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It isn't like the box dwellers have been boring us silly with ideas for fixing I-35's traffic congestion.

The 122 pages from the I-35 Corridor Advisory Committee, the fruit of months of hearings and other discussion up and down the interstate corridor, suggest that the federal interstate designation be stripped from I-35 from north of Georgetown to Buda. Give it to Texas 130 instead, taking away the tolls from that road. And call what is now I-35 ... well, the report doesn't say. East Avenue? I welcome your suggestions.

There's more. The report recommends taking two of I-35's six to eight lanes (it varies through Austin), one on each side, and making them "dynamic" toll lanes, with prices that would go up and down depending on traffic. Fewer free lanes, in other words. But the authors want two lanes added to Texas 130, which would be I-35 by then. Got it?

Doing all this (and many other complicated, expensive things included in the report) is actually harder than its sounds. For instance, this might require as many as two elections: a local vote to allow free lanes to be converted to tolls and another Central Texas vote to perhaps raise fees to help pay the $2 billion or so of debt remaining on Texas 130 and its two partner toll roads. The Legislature would have to pass some laws, including one allowing that local vote on fees.

Someone would need to find the money to add those lanes to Texas 130 (and, oh, yes, the seven miles of Texas 45 Southeast that completes the eastern loop of Austin). Politically, you'd have to convince a still toll-skeptical public that it's OK to take away free lanes and put tolls on them and that enough people would be diverted around Austin on the new I-35 to make it better on the old I-35.

In fact, you'd have to find an elected official willing to advance such an idea. I'm not saying it couldn't be done — this is Austin, after all — but such a thing could shorten someone's time in office.

The draft report, in perhaps its loftiest flight of fancy, suggests that the tolls likewise be removed from the extension of Texas 130 between Mustang Ridge and Interstate 10 near Seguin, a segment under construction right now by a private consortium at a cost of more than $1 billion. They plan to toll it, and profit from it for 50 years, and send a small percentage of the toll money to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Taking the tolls off those 40 miles "ain't gonna happen," as one key official told me. There's a good chance that recommendation, said to have originated from Lockhart, will fall out of the final report.

So, is this just some tasty pie in the sky or the first glimmer of a long-awaited solution for I-35? Sorry to raise a question I can't answer, but no one knows at this point. It's well to remember, however, the let's-bury-I-35-through-Austin plan that was splashed all over the Statesman's front page about a decade ago. Haven't seen the bulldozers out there yet.

For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at 445-3698 or bwear@statesman.com.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Aqua official signals start of leak repairs in Woodcreek and Woodcreek North


A big question that has many of Aqua's ratepayers nervous is whether the repair costs will be passed on in the form of increased rates


Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to the groundwater district at
manager2@haysgroundwater.com, to HTGCD Board President Jimmy Skipton at jimmyskipton@gmail.com, board vice president David Baker at jacobswellspring@gmail.com, board member Joan Jernigan at jerniganjs@austin.rr.com, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story. Click here to go to the district's website.

By Bob Ochoa

Editor

An Aqua Texas official has informed the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District that the water company is moving forward with plans to repair leaks in its system in Woodcreek and Woodcreek North.

Click on letter to enlarge
The repair and replacement of "certain water lines" will be a "monumental task," Aqua Texas, Inc., Central Texas Area Manager Brent C. Reeh states in a letter to the District's board president, Jimmy Skipton. The District received the letter Jan. 18. The RoundUp obtained a copy of the letter through a public information request.

Reeh said Aqua will need to complete several regulatory steps "before we are able to actually start turning dirt and replacing water lines." The review process by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of Aqua's repair plans will take between 90 and 120 days, Reeh said. In the meantime, Aqua will solicit bids from contractors for the project.

Reeh's letter does not specify the extent or cost of the initial repairs. Aqua officials have previously estimated a price tag of $5 million to repair the entire system. A big question that has many of Aqua's ratepayers nervous is whether the repair costs will be passed on in the form of increased rates.

Aqua's willingness to begin repairs on its notoriously leaky Woodcreek water system "is a good thing for the aquifer," Mr. Skipton told the RoundUp. "Aqua Texas is showing, at this point, good faith. They have taken it upon themselves to fix the problem after going to the (District's) meetings and hearing the concerns brought up by a lot of people who thought Aqua should start doing something to fix the problems."

For well over a year, Aqua and the District's board have been unable to reach a comprehensive agreement to remedy extensive groundwater waste, or line loss, in Aqua's water system, which serves more than 2,000 customers in the City of Woodcreek and unincorporated Woodcreek North.

"The task of coming to an agreement has been challenging, to say the least," Reeh states in his letter. "We will continue to work with you and the District in trying to work on a comprehensive agreement to address our respective concerns."

Under its current permits with the District, Aqua is allowed to pump 321 acre-feet of water annually for its Woodcreek Phase I service area and 339 acre-feet for Woodcreek Phase II (approximately 215 million gallons combined). By its own reporting to the District of groundwater pumpage, use and line loss, Aqua's system is hemorrhaging something on the order of 57 million gallons annually. Line loss is reported to be about 20% in Woodcreek Phase I and 35% in the Phase II service area.

The District's Rule 9, which addresses groundwater waste and penalties, sets the allowable line loss at 15%, the standard for municipal water systems. Aqua has threatened legal action against the District if it sought to enforce the water waste rule.

Several long running attempts to negotiate a settlement on the line loss problem have failed. One such attempt which proved to be extremely unpopular with the public was to grant Aqua a 3-year permit with built in pumping increases in exchange for a promise from Aqua to repair its system's leaks.

Meanwhile, the RoundUp is informed that the City of Woodcreek is preparing a survey that it will send to residents of both Woodcreek and Woodcreek North in February. A city source said the survey is being done to "gauge the sentiment of Aqua's customers." The results will be tabulated in March.

Late last year, the Woodcreek Property Owners Association collected more than 650 individually signed petitions protesting Aqua's high rates.
An informed source said the petition essentially says "enough is enough, we can't afford to live here with these kind of water rates – please do something." The petition requests an investigation into Aqua Texas water and sewer service rates.

Copies of the petitions were hand delivered to then State Rep. Patrick Rose and candidate Jason Isaac, who defeated Rose in the November election. Other officials said to have received, or will receive, the petitions include new County Judge Bert Cobb, County Commissioner Will Conley, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth and former County Commissioner Jeff Barton.

So far, the source said, "We haven't heard a word back from anyone, nothing from Isaac."

Commissioner Conley and Judge Cobb reportedly will meet soon to discuss the petition.

Part of the petition text states: "For years we have been subjected to the excessive rates and fees of Aqua Texas. We cannot afford these outrageous rates and fees and we request you investigate this company and do all that you can to reduce these rates and fees as soon as possible. Those of us who own vacant lots or have our homes on the market are being adversely affected as well. Basic human needs such as water and sewer should never be a luxury item!"

We'll have more on this as updates become available.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jacob's Well land deal may come with a million-dollar tax write off


Commissioner Conley had gone on record at the November 23 Commissioners Court meeting as saying that he would not change the deal to give a tax write off to the sellers


Note: This is the second story in an exclusive RoundUp series called Big Money Environmentalism in Hays County: What You Should Know by citizen journalist Lenee Lovejoy of San Marcos. Scroll down several stories to read the first report. Lovejoy has spent considerable time scouring county public records and otherwise covering her reporting bases. Here, she examines contracts and other official records to reveal more of a complex purchasing arrangement of those famous 50 acres adjacent to Jacob's Well for $1.7 million than what the tax paying public has been led to believe. It takes a fair amount of hutzpah to try to pull some of the apparent end runs we're seeing revealed in this tangled deal – and some familiar names are involved. Why are we not surprised. The taxpayers deserve more transparency and honesty in how their money is being handled, always, and especially when accompanying an iconic and revered natural water feature as Jacob's Well.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Lovejoy at
LeneeL@centurytel.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Lenee Lovejoy
Special Report

Problems seem to have arisen with the County’s controversial deal to purchase 50 more acres for conservation near Jacob’s Well. Those close to the court say that the terms for the deal were changed after County Commissioner’s Court approved the contracts last year.

Any changes would have to be presented to Commissioners’ Court at a public meeting, and approved by at least 3 votes. If that did not occur, the deal that took place on December 20 may have been executed without the proper authorizations required to conduct County business.

The contracts that Commissioners’ Court approved last November 23, among other things, called for Hays County to buy 50.199 acres for $1,700,000 from Westridge Joint Venture, LLC, and Robert L. Haug and Vinson J. Wood.

It appears that what may have taken place, however, was the purchase of roughly 30 acres for $1,700,000. This transaction was apparently used to set a per acre value of $56,666 on the remaining 20 acres. These 20 acres would have been gifted to Hays County in a second transaction that would show up on paper as a gift worth $1,133,320.

It appears that Westridge Joint Venture, LLC has asked the county to sign an IRS document acknowledging this gift.

Other than the County Judge, very few (if any) are authorized to sign the contracts required to buy and sell land on behalf of the County. Former County Judge Liz Sumter reportedly refused to sign the contracts for the modified deal.

Final verification of all of this has not been received, but it is true that the “Assignment and Assumption Agreement” that was signed on December 16, and the various deed transfer documents signed on December 17, show the signature of County Attorney Mark Kennedy, rather than that of Judge Sumter.

The option agreement for the deal identifies Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley as the county’s designated representative. Commissioner Conley had gone on record at the November 23 Commissioners Court meeting as saying that he would not change the deal to give a tax write-off to the sellers.

Former County Judge Liz Sumter had voted against the Jacob’s Well deal last November, citing that it would use public money for private use, which was wrong; that due diligence had not been done to ensure the County’s best interests were protected, and that it involved too much liability for the County.

Judge Bert Cobb, who took office earlier this month, had gone on record as opposing the deal because the contracts did not meet the desired objective, which was to ensure the land around Jacob’s Well would be conserved. County Commissioners who voted for the deal were Mr. Conley, Debbie Ingalsbe, and former Commissioners Karen Ford and Jeff Barton.

Further controversy has arisen since certain residents of Hays County analyzed the contracts on this and previous land buys at Jacob’s Well.

More on this in the next installment.

Lenee Lovejoy is a 15 year resident of San Marcos. After 20 years working in global corporations and public education as a systems analyst and web programmer/consultant, she decided to make a change. Today she runs a ranch with her husband and has her own web design/consulting business.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are we teetering on the edge of placelessness? Now's the time to weigh in


HDR's draft report and its supporters are overriding local concerns by imposing functional efficiency, objective organization and manipulative planning. The study proposes merely the best way to achieve narrowly defined technical ends

Note:
Texas State graduate student and Wimberley area resident Matt Heinemann raises many passionate points and questions about a water and waterwater study now in final draft form that carries profound implications for future growth in western Hays County and the Wimberley Valley.
The study can be downloaded from the county's website, at this link. You should read it, it's got some pretty audacious recommendations. Unfortunately, public comment as been nill to sparse. It remains open through Feb. 3. Send your comments to County Grants Administrator Jeff Hauff at jeff.hauff@co.hays.tx.us or call Hauff's office, 512.393.2211. Commenting on important local development studies is like voting – if you don't you can't complain. According to Hauff, the study's next destination is the Texas Water Development Board. After final approval, the county will prioritize the study's recommended infrastructure improvements and can apply for state assistance to begin implementing them.

Send your comments, questions and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Heinemann at love4water@gmail.com, to County Commissioner Will Conley at will.conley@co.hays.tx.us, to County Judge Bert Cobb at bert.cobb@co.hays.tx.us, to the Judge's Chief of Staff Lon Shell at lon.shell@co.hays.tx.us, or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Matt Heinemann

Guest Commentary

What is wrong with Hays County’s consulting firm HDR recommending water from the Guadalupe River via the San Marcos treatment plant transmitted down Ranch Road 12 to Wimberley?

This is, after all, the recommendation that Will Conley intends to support once the year-and-a-half-long water and wastewater facilities study drafted by HDR for Hays County is adopted. It would appear the plan is intended to ensure growth in the Valley up to and beyond the next 15 years.

The first thing wrong with the scenario in the study is that it is not sustainable. Fifteen years of relatively "reliable" water may ensure short-term expansion of residential development, but it does not guarantee a long-term water supply and it will play havoc with our property values. There is a false assumption that growth in the Valley is in the best interest of residents.

Many resist the vision of this report as the inevitable fate for the Wimberley Valley. Many also understand that more growth will bring along with it the burden of substantial tax increases. (See American Farmland Trust – click on Hays County Cost of Community Services Study/pdf). The water & wastewater plan, as now drafted, has a narrowly defined range of alternatives. Unfortunately, there are only a small number of people who view these alternatives as needing to be urgently addressed.

Place is an attitude


How many people do you know in Wimberley who are disgusted by mini-malls, sprawling shopping centers with a uniform sameness, big-box retail department stores and kitsch storefronts practically everywhere? Many of our cities are losing, or have already lost, their authenticity.

In their public meeting last Wednesday (Jan. 19) in Wimberley, the engineers in the HDR study, and Commissioner Will Conley, seem to have prioritized recommendations based on technique over place. Cities in Hays County are not uniform in their composition nor in their desires for growth. In my experience, residents in Wimberley feel deeply about their community and resist drastic changes in its composition.

HDR's draft report and its supporters are overriding local concerns by imposing functional efficiency, objective organization and manipulative planning. The study proposes merely the best way to achieve narrowly defined technical ends. Some politicians have lost sight of the personal structures which give communities meaning. They have ceased to look for or define meaning in their communities. This is an inauthentic attitude. And this is a sorry situation for a representative of a truly authentic place.

The engineers presenting this study have lumped our communities together, all requiring a similar set of strategies to overcome ‘spatial inefficiencies’ with major infrastructure improvements. Why would our community want to allow such detached planning from fullness of place and community? Wimberley "the place" is merely incidental in this report with its countywide implications. Are we to understand that our destiny is common to the other communities in fast growing Hays County? Are we supposed to follow the goals of a narrow group of interests for efficiency sake, for development, profits or greed?

What I heard Commissioner Conley say at the Wednesday night meeting is that this type of plan is “long overdue,” that he is anxious to get moving on the recommendations, and he is not interested in having more open meetings for public comment about the report.

The narrowness of such an approach, with an emphasis on the abstract “future dwellers” and economic interests implied, rather than on the impact that water infrastructure of this scale will have on community life and values is profoundly inauthentic and shameful. This technique-dominated planning is difficult to reconcile with the subjective values of people and place, and it requires a significant investment. It outright ignores the experiences and everyday lives of concerned Wimberley citizens – possibly even threatening to obliterate the sense of place many of us feel in living here.

Matt Heinemann is a Wimberley area resident, graduated from Wimberley High School and now a graduate student in Geography at Texas State University. Matt participated in the committee responsible for the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Wimberley. He can be reached at love4water@gmail.com

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grassroots fight for local water control takes shape


“We have to say to the few people who are putting this plan together that this does not serve the state of Texas or the people of Texas . . . Moving water does not work.”

There are numerous other ways citizens can get involved, especially helping to organize and support a planned statewide water conference slated for Saturday, March 19 at McKinney Roughs

Note: Here's the latest installment in the escalating war over the transfer of groundwater and groundwater rights in neighboring Bastrop and Lee counties. The map of the proposed pipeline by the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority clearly shows a spur connecting to San Marcos. Future supplemental water supplies to Hays and western Hays County may depend heavily on completion of this pipeline. Whether it can overcome the mounting resistance from Bastrop and Lee county citizens is the key question. There is an oblique reference to the project in a draft long range water plan for Hays County presented at a public meeting last night at the Wimberley Community Center. Here's what it states: "
About the year 2030 when the interim supply agreement with (Canyon Lake Water Supply Corporation) would expire, construct an 18 mile, 16” diameter treated water pipeline from GBRA facilities at the San Marcos Water Treatment Plant, along RR 12, to the City of Wimberley." Download a copy of the draft Hays County Water and Wastewater Facilities Plan here. Comments from the public are being taken until Feb. 3. Call the county's grants administration office at 512.393.2211 for more information.

On another water-related front, we are informed to be on the lookout for legislation from State Sen. Jeff Wentworth that will empower the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District to levy – with voter approval – an ad valorem property tax rate of up to 5-cents to fund district operations. Some would say, "Better late than never." And others, "Over my dead body!" What will be new State Rep. Jason Isaac's position, will he agree to co-author the bill in the House? Will the groundwater district's current board even allow the question to be brought to a vote?

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story


For more information on the March water conference and how to get involved, contact Linda Curtis at 512.535.0989.


Read the complete story in the Bastrop Advertiser at
this link.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | By Cyndi Wright


Summoning the specter of the Trans-Texas Corridor project that was halted after a successful grassroots mobilization, a mixture of people and groups staged a standing-room only forum Saturday to organize a similar push against recent state decisions concerning water.

Smithville Times / click on graphic to enlarge
Specifically targeted was the Dec. 16 Texas Water Development Board’s approval of a $2.5 million loan to the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority for a pipeline project, dubbed by opponents as the Trans-Texas Water Highway, that is projected to pump an estimated 56,000 acre-feet of water per year from Bastrop and Lee counties to GBRA customers in Hays, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe and Kendall counties.

Billed as “The Texas Water War: Will the People Unite?”, the meeting was led by Independent Texan Linda Curtis at Bastrop’s public library on Saturday. The rainy weather seemed especially appropriate for a meeting designed to organize local Texans into finding some measure of control over the limited water resources in the state.

“We are here because this is something we are all concerned about,” Curtis said. “We all drink water.”

Besides Curtis, other organizers of the forum included Environmental Stewardship founder Steve Box; political candidate and local rancher Pati Jacobs; and Phil Cook, representing himself and the Sierra Club.

Not present due to illness was organizer Judith McGeary, founder of the Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance, which was formed to fight the proposed National Animal Identification System, a governmental solution to tracking diseased livestock that opponents say will drive small and medium-size farmers and ranchers out of business while increasing the consolidation of the food supply into the hands of a few large, multinational corporations.

“The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance will play a major role in forming this coalition,” Curtis said.

The grassroots campaign that seriously wounded the Trans-Texas Corridor project was led by Fayetteville couple David and Linda Stall, who received a standing ovation when they joined the meeting Saturday. “You will have to create pressure on your elected officials to get them to make this a priority,” Linda Stall told the crowd. Curtis worked with the Stalls as they led their fight against the TTC. “We learned a lot during the organization of that movement,” she said. Who rules?

Organizers and speakers on Saturday agreed a major problem is the lack of a true, clear, legal definition of who owns groundwater. “Water law is unsettled,” Cook said. “Ownership of groundwater is undecided in Texas.”

The current legal definition, the Rule of Capture, states that whoever owns a piece of property owns the water beneath it. Absent malice or willful waste, landowners have the right to take all the water they can capture from under their land and to do with the water what they please. But according to Cook, it’s still questionable and mostly unclear when that ownership takes place.

“If it is owned, when and where does that take place? While it’s under the ground or when you bring it up and capture it? Water law is highly controversial,” Cook said, explaining why he thinks it has yet to be clearly defined in a legislative session. “For about 20 years we’ve been hearing ‘we’ll deal with that in the next session.’”

Republican Senator Troy Fraser from Horseshoe Bay introduced SB 332 last week, relating to the vested ownership interest in groundwater beneath the surface and the right to produce that groundwater, which states in part: A (grounwater) district may make and enforce rules, including rules limiting groundwater production based on tract size or the spacing of wells, to provide for conserving, preserving, protecting and recharging of the groundwater or of a groundwater reservoir or its subdivisions in order to control subsidence, prevent degradation of water quality or prevent waste of groundwater.

But “it doesn’t solve the problem,” Cook said.

According to Jacobs, a local rancher who owns Bastrop Cattle Company, 75-80 percent of Texas’ population will end up somewhere along the I-35 corridor. “And they need water,” she said. “These people are not our enemies. We need to turn them into our allies.”

According to Jacobs, the rising cost of gasoline will dictate a “seismic” change in the way things are done. “We are going to have to change from a petrochemical society,” she said. “There are tremendous opportunities for change, but you cannot do it without water. In 20 years, there will be no water on I-35 or out here if moving water is how they try to solve it.”

Jacobs said people just need to say no. “We have to say to the few people who are putting this plan together that this does not serve the state of Texas or the people of Texas,” she said. “Moving water does not work.”

With gas prices rising, Jacobs said it will no longer be feasible to truck vegetables from California to Texas – or anywhere else. “We need to build jobs and development around regional agriculture,” she said. “This is not pie in the sky. We have doubled our sales every year for the last four years and used less water doing it.”

One man, identified as Austinite Gordon Walton, told participants that it was going to be an uphill fight against the water marketers and politicians. “Everybody here is going to have to get very passionate,” he said. “This is not going to be a hand-holding thing. The only way we are going to get to them is to get in their faces and make them very uncomfortable. Organizations like this need money to fight this.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PEC files impact statement with court in Fuelberg case


Note: Bennie Fuelberg's punishment hearing was rescheduled to February. Several of the major financial damages listed in PEC's impact statement were cited in prior RoundUp commentaries by Merle Moden of Wimberley and Milton Hawkins of Johnson City.

January 18, 2011
TO: All PEC-area papers
MEDIA CONTACT: Anne Harvey, (830) 868-4933; Austin line, (512) 219-2602

Pedernales Electric Cooperative has filed an impact statement seeking $8.8 million in restitution in the case of State of Texas vs. Bennie Fuelberg. Acting CEO Luis A. Garcia officially filed the document Jan. 6 at the direction of the Cooperative’s Board of Directors. Fuelberg served as PEC’s general manager until early 2008.

The intent of filing the statement is to seek restitution from the defendant in the current proceeding, highlight the interests of PEC and its members as victims in the case, and prevent further damages to PEC and its members from (or avoid) a costly civil lawsuit. Texas law allows trial courts to order restitution, and the trial judge will be reviewing impact statements from PEC and other affected parties prior to the sentencing hearing.

PEC’s statement reflects financial damages to the Cooperative and its membership caused by the defendant’s actions and the resulting trial.

As outlined in the statement, PEC will seek restitution from the defendant for losses and damages including:

- Misapplication of fiduciary property; theft.
- Expenses of PEC staff related to the trial.
- Deferred compensation plan of defendant.
- Attorneys fees.
- Financial losses and fees related to Texland Electric Cooperative.
- Navigant investigation and associated costs.
- Travel expenses incurred by the defendant while working for PEC.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The corporate ruling elite, deficit spending and the expendable American worker


America's corporate ruling elite have ultimately made this decision: American consumers and workers are not needed anymore..."


Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Boschert at
arrowbiz@texasorp.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Rocky Boschert
Financial Editor

As we enter 2011, corporate business profits are doing pretty well, in spite of, or perhaps because of, poor economic conditions for most American workers. In fact, corporate profits are the only area of the US economy that has been expanding at a good clip since the 2008 recession.

In the third quarter of 2010, profits of domestic corporations were running at an annual rate of $1.27 trillion, just shy of their peak of $1.40 trillion in pre-recession 2007, well on the way to that high mark. Even after an adjustment for inflation, corporate profits are in relatively good shape, in a V shaped recovery, if you will.

So it is not too hard to see why the American ruling elite – whose incomes are tied to corporate business profits and Wall Street investments – are loathe to allowing a major shift of economic policy that may curtail their profits and their power. Yet in the past, normal economic analysis would have you think that more economic growth would provide even more profits, especially to corporations.

Profits, however, depend on two things: 1) the amount of economic wealth that gets created, and 2) where that share of the wealth goes – and how it is distributed.

Currently, for the business elite and the wealthy, with the current high level of unemployment, workers remain in a poor position to demand higher wages – i.e., a larger share of the economic wealth, either current or future. So corporations - and the ruling wealthy that get their income from owning corporate businesses – do not really want unemployment to fall much — especially to fall low enough to give workers more competitive bargaining power to demand higher wages and more benefits. And the weak position of workers in the current economy affects more than just wages and benefits.

As the Main Street / employment recession continues, businesses, especially the larger corporations, are able to force regulatory leniency and corporate-beneficial tax changes while controlling their expenses more easily than in “normal” times. For example, they can change work rules, scream over-regulation is hurting profits, get rid of older and/or higher paid workers, reduce benefits, and bring in new technology more easily, since workers are in a much weaker and poorer position to resist the changes imposed by business and the wealthy.

Moreover, the financial “shock” imposed on society by bad economic conditions and incompetent past business decisions is often used to manipulate their servitude politicians, making it easy for businesses and the wealthy to demand huge concessions from government to bail them out.

We are seeing these “demands” now with the new Republican/Tea Party dominated House of Representatives and the DINO corporate liberals. Still, from the perspective of the wealthy, one would think they would know more growth would be better for their profits – as more growth would also mean more consumption.

But here lies the new American economic conundrum: More demand for goods and services would necessitate more employment, giving the working class more power, hence weakening the power of the wealthy ruling class business owners.

With regard to the new global economy, America’s corporate ruling elite have ultimately made this decision: American consumers and workers are not needed anymore when the Wall Street American corporations have China, India, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and soon the Middle East and Africa to sell their goods to – produced by globally rotating cheaper labor on those same continents.

In essence, American workers are expendable unless a company gets a renewed case of American patriotism. Yet it has become apparent corporate America is not going to invest their free bailout money to help American workers. If a productive US growth stimulus policy required governments to spend more by running deficits, the wealthy are not going to be very patriotic. Why? Because they know that higher deficits would mean more taxes for the wealthy down the line.

In part, the wealthy fear that higher taxes would be needed to pay off the debt the government would incur when it ran deficits to stimulate growth, growth that would be designed to mostly help the struggling middle and poorer classes.

Equally important, and a valid concern to all political persuasions, upping government spending today will most likely entrench a higher level of government activity, which may also require higher taxes on a long-term basis. And the wealthy – with their vast army of lobbyists yielding suitcases of payola for our federal and state politicians – are very skilled at being able to push higher tax obligations onto lower income groups, as they have recently done again with the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

Concerns and fears over higher taxes – much of it fabricated by the ruling corporate elite generates a strong anti-big-government ideology, and that ideology can trump pro-worker common sense and unemployment solving economic logic. And there are plenty of people who because they are trained to oppose “big government” – also oppose the spending that would be involved in any program that would provide significant economic stimulus and employment through more deficit spending.

Strangely, most Americans who oppose government spending are not among the wealthy; yet they share the same anti-government, anti-tax ideology. After all, since they are not allowed to improve their incomes by voting for higher wages, they think they can improve their incomes by voting against taxes, which means voting against “big government,” which means voting against deficits spending.

All this said, most of today’s large federal budget deficit is not the result of spending designed to stimulate the economy. In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the federal government was on course for a 2009 surplus of $700 billion. But in fiscal year 2009, the budget deficit was about $1.4 trillion. Where, then, is this $2.1 trillion difference between the 2001 CBO estimate and the current 2009 reality?

Lost in the “conservative” (or should we say Republican Party) rhetoric, is that slow economic growth in the early 2000s, followed by severe downturn in 2008 and 2009, accounted for over 40% of the difference, as tax income declined sharply and spending automatically increased (e.g., unemployment compensation) due to the recession which started in late 2007. In fact, about 50% of the difference resulted from legislation enacted in the Bush years – over half of which was war spending, tax breaks for the wealthy, and the bank bailout (under Bush, but ultimately enabled by the Democrats). In reality, the stimulus package of the Obama administration accounted for less than 10% of the difference, a relatively small share of the current deficit.

In the end, business interests and the wealthy who rail against the deficit have real financial interests and power that they want to protect. But what is more impressive is how the wealthy and powerful business interests have done a very effective job – with big help from a compliant and ignorant media – to convince economically weakened middle class conservatives and independents into believing their economic interests are the same as the ruling class who control domestic US economic policy.

“…One nation, indivisible; With Liberty and Justice for some.”


Rocky Boschert, Owner and Managing Principal of Arrowhead Asset Management, a fee-only investment management firm in Wimberley, Texas, is a Registered Investment Advisor and has over 25 years experience in the money management and investment business. Rocky writes a weekly financial tips column in the Personal Finance Page of the RoundUp.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fraser files bill to "clarify" groundwater ownership


Under the legislation, groundwater conservation districts could still require a landowner to get a permit and limit the amount of groundwater that can be produced


Note: This press release from Sen. Fraser was circulated to media January 12. For more information, contact Janice McCoy in the senator's office, 512.463.0124. Needless to say, groundwater management is a hot potato issue all across the state. The intent of Sen. Fraser's bill is not fully explained. That's not unusual in the early stages of any proposed legislation. What is clear is the message that an honest debate is needed anew over the rights and proper management of our groundwater resources.

State Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, authored legislation on Wednesday, January 12 which would clarify groundwater ownership. Senate Bill 332 would clearly state that landowners have a vested ownership interest in the groundwater beneath their property.

The legislation has been filed because some entities are challenging the Rule of Capture in court. The Rule of Capture was established in 1904 by the Texas Supreme Court. The court ruled that groundwater was the private property of a landowner and that a landowner could be held liable for harming a neighbor's well by exercising their right to capture the groundwater.

"For over 100 years, landowners have believed that the Rule of Capture gives them a vested private property right in the groundwater beneath their land," said Fraser. "And, that the property right gives the ability to drill a well and produce groundwater for their use."

The legislation is intended to work in conjunction with local groundwater conservation district regulation. Under the legislation, groundwater conservation districts could still require a landowner to get a permit and limit the amount of groundwater that can be produced. However, the legislation would prevent a district from "taking" a landowner's right to capture the water beneath the land.

"Landowners recognize that locally elected groundwater conservation districts play an important role in helping manage water to ensure it is available for future generations," said Fraser. "But there is a big difference between managing how much water is pumped and denying property owners the right to access the water beneath their land."

A vested ownership interest is a property right that a landowner can legally protect. The right to produce groundwater is a property right that is exclusively the landowner’s. No one else can come onto private property, drill a well, and start pumping groundwater. If someone were to attempt it, the landowner could legally stop them.

"As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, I believe the issue of groundwater rights needs to be debated by the Legislature." Fraser said. "The management of this important asset is key to developing the State Water Plan and ensuring that water is available for the future."

Senator Fraser represents a 21-county region in the geographic center of the state. He is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. He also sits on the following standing Senate Committees: Business and Commerce, Nominations, State Affairs, and International Relations and Trade.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Citizen joins Hollon's concerns for trees and road work along RR 12


I am ready, even in this cold weather to tie myself to a tree! Want to join me?


Note:
Wimberley area resident Roberta Shoemaker-Beal sent this letter in response to the Jack Hollon commentary below.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Shoemaker-Beal at
creatas@aol.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

To the Editor:


I always appreciate Jack Hollon's sense of civic guardianship for the Wimberley Valley, a gateway to the Hill Country of Texas. For me he is a hero and a “grey head,” one who senses what is important, due to his study and history of a bio-region. The Wimberley Valley seems to be a complex eco-geologic system which too few understand.

It also increasingly concerns, actually shocks me, that our elected officials do not inform citizens, whom they know to be concerned about the Wimberley Valley, that such mass destruction is pending on our main scenic gateway road in to our unique bio-region.

Jack Hollon’s well documented and reflective writing needs to be posted on every tree so that those un-aesthetic and uncaring folks who aid and abet the destruction of the very values that draw people to the Hill Country, and especially the Wimberley Valley, in the first place. Ranch Road 12 used to quicken my heart coming home to Wimberley. In the last two weeks, it has wounded my heart, my aesthetic sense and my hope for the future of our beautiful little corner of the world.

How can anyone be so callous as to NOT inform caring citizens about this impending destruction of the gateway to the Hill Country? I have been chided for becoming a conspiracy theorist about politics locally? Yet, one wonders if someone is manipulating the construction schedules to take advantage of the transitions in government? I am beginning to think that the elected officials of Hays County are working against the very values that many of us hold dear: the beauty of our corner of the Hill County.

How can one "over-weight and over-width load of industrial equipment, being transported north by Starline Heavy Haul, Inc. of Alberta, Canada" get away with the destruction of a "signature tree?" Are there no protections in place against such blatant scenic and historic destruction? Why not?

Again, why have those wanting to protect the scenic value, and, even the property values of our valley, not been informed that further destruction was planned? I am sure the non-running creeks of this valley have already had a lowering effect from unchecked property development. There is a big difference between maintaining roads and up-grading them for construction trucks!

Why? Is it because concerned Hill Country folk are being discounted as "old" and" behind the times," and not acceptant of "you-can’t-stop-growth-ism." Growth at what cost to us all? Why? Is it because the folks in Wimberley can get very organized when informed and were very successful in a protest against taking down RR 12 oak trees before? Because of the True Ranch meeting that drew 200 people and lasted for many hours, demonstrating the concern we all have? Yes, a community meeting is long overdue.

Many "grey heads" from the Wimberley Valley tried to warn Patrick Rose of the cost of his "real estate background" to our region. He did not listen. Perhaps, that will be the future of other "young bucks" who do not really care about our Hill Country in the long term, and who plan to sell us all out, and move on.

May we replace them with elected officials who can do their job better than those in office now, while we try and limit the damage of their short-sightedness immediately? I am ready, even in this cold weather to tie myself to a tree! Want to join me? But, first, I will go to a Hays County Commissioners meeting next Tuesday morning, if they cannot come across the county to us? Thanks for your excellent article. It resonates with just about everyone I know around here.

Roberta Shoemaker-Beal

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tree-cutting along RR 12 raises questions of quality of life legacy


Many citizens are concerned and confused about trees that are now falling to the dozer-chainsaw-chipper. We need County and City leaders to explain the present plan and to listen to our concerns


Note:
Jack Hollon returns with a commentary referencing the tree cutting occurring along stretches of RR 12 between Wimberley and San Marcos. A couple of weeks ago, the RoundUp received calls from citizens concerned about the drastic alteration to the landscape that was taking place, with little idea of what was happening. We contacted Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley who said it is part of safety and new design upgrades to the road at the Junction, the Hugo Rd. intersection and at the Sink Creek low water crossing. Conley said don't quote him, but estimated this phase of improvements would be on the order of $6 million, improvements authorized under the 2008 $207 million road bond program. That's fine and dandy, but we are also informed that some of the work may be proceeding ahead of vital environmental studies along the entire path which Conley says will, in the future, look nothing like it does today. New trees, he said, will be planted to replace the vegetation that is being leveled. More questions need to be asked and more straight answers need to be given. We're not sure if the work and work orders require specific approval from commissioners court or can legitimately proceed automatically under the blanket of the road bond without further examination.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Hollon at
jhollon37tx@yahoo.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Jack Hollon
Guest Commentary

One year ago, Jan. 9, 2010, the Wimberley View ran this headline: “Hanging Tree hangs up wide load convoy.” This appeared above a picture of a TXDOT worker, suspended in a high lift, applying spray chemical to the stump of a huge freshly-cut live oak limb.

For a good part of a century that limb had created a graceful arch across RR-12 one mile east of the Junction. Dave Cadriel’s well written article discussed how a misguided, out-of-compliance load of industrial equipment, being transported north by Starline Heavy Haul, Inc. of Alberta, Canada, had held up traffic and led to the mutilation of this “signature tree for the Wimberley area” – so the convoy could pass.

Like many Wimberley folk, I was shocked and saddened at this community loss. That tree and that limb have framed our coming and going for a long time – the tree standing strong and tall, a bit close to the road for engineering comfort – had seen Native Americans passing by when Europeans were scarce here.

Some sixty years ago the San Marcos school bus that gathered students from ranches in the Devils Backbone and Hugo areas passed daily under that limb. My brothers and I rode that bus, along with Halm, Snyder, and Guenther kids. (Another bus took Wimberley Valley students to high school in San Marcos, also past that tree.)

Like an old friend, the tree did its job of providing shade, food for wildlife, respite for birds, and our aesthetic pleasure in viewing its graceful rugged shape against the sky. It reminded westbound travelers where they were, even now, where we are. If a tree could pass on a message, this one might say: “You are entering a special part of the Texas Hill Country. Ahead, turn right to the Big Hill, with remarkable views and a dramatic descent to the Blanco-Cypress Valley. Or, straight on west takes you across the Devils Backbone: rugged beauty on both sides. Slow down and enjoy. Don’t take this for granted.”

What does a year of numbing adjustment to this assault teach us; what have we learned from this loss? And what is a proper response by those who live here, who have a history here and care deeply in the large sense about their home place?

The straight answer: this is a wakeup call. I must plead guilty to being half asleep, to not taking timely action or asking the hard questions during this past year or so since the “limb amputation” occurred. That incident warned that protecting our scenic roadways does not happen automatically.

If we residents do not accept the work of good stewardship, that work will not get done. The relentless pressures of development and money making and you-can’t-stop-growthism will continue to chip away at our quality of life, at the quiet and beauty, the flora and fauna, and the flowing waters that attracted most of us in the first place. So let us take this lesson from the Welcoming Tree and apply it to other trees and to all the natural wonders along RR-12.

Many citizens are concerned and confused about trees that are now falling to the dozer-chainsaw-chipper. We need County and City leaders to explain the present plan and to listen to our concerns. Then we may need citizen volunteers to reconsider alternatives when road ‘improvements’ are proposed. TXDOT serves communities in Texas; not the other way round. Same for our County crews.

Some of the once beautiful passage from San Marcos to the Junction can still be saved, but massive damage can be done quickly once a flawed work order to clear an area is issued. Planning that precedes clearing must be careful and imaginative. That is not the responsibility of the dozer or chainsaw operator; leaders and supervisors must answer.

Concerning other areas we must be alert and involved to protect the RR-12 segment from the Junction to Wimberley, and on to Dripping Springs. The same is true of 3237 to 150 and Kyle, roads that are no doubt on some drawing board for “upgrades.”

In summary, the need for clear accurate information about present road plans and activities, stressing how trees and the land generally are to be treated, should be addressed in a community forum. Time would be allowed for presentations and for discussion and questions. I urge that such a meeting be organized early in the New Year, so that all stakeholders may be heard. The interest in these issues may compare with the concerns about True Ranch a few years ago.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Big money environmentalism coming to Hays County – what you should know


The citizens' analysis revealed that the land purchases were far more lucrative for the environmental groups involved than had been previously realized

Note: This introductory article is the first in a series that will take a closer look into the new environmental land buying program that is sweeping Hays and surrounding counties. Hopefully the series will help spark a broader discussion about the county's spending priorities and spending efficiency as well as the direction that the taxpayers and citizens want to go on the environmental front.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Lovejoy at
LeneeL@centurytel.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

By Lenee Lovejoy
Guest Commentary

Millions of dollars of Hays County assets were given away late last year, yet this is not recorded anywhere in the county’s financial records. These “hidden” transfers of county assets took place during land buys that County Commissioners approved just before Christmas.

They were the first under a new environmental conservation program that has been promoted aggressively to our county commissioners by groups outside the county. One such group is The Nature Conservancy, a Washington D.C. based environmental organization that partners with the federal government.

So far in Hays County only two land deals have been made under the new environmental conservation program, but more are planned – as much as 30,000 acres. The first purchase under the program occurred last November when Commissioners Court bought 1,000 acres of Nicholson Ranch property in western Hays County. The second took place in December with the purchase of 50 acres next to Jacob’s Well near Wimberley.

The promotions for the land purchases in Hays County did not disclose that generous gifts of millions in county assets would be made to an outside environmental group as part of these land purchases. Nor was it disclosed that a creative new finance method would be introduced that allows our elected commissioners to borrow large sums for land buys without requiring the traditional voter bond election.

These facts only became public after several Hays citizens made open record requests to obtain the purchase contracts used for the land deals, and analyzed the contracts. The citizens' analysis revealed that the land purchases were far more lucrative for the environmental groups involved than had been previously realized.

Just how lucrative? That is the topic of the next article in this series, where more details from the analysis of the Nicholson Ranch and Jacob’s Well land contracts will be disclosed. Just last week at Commissioners Court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley and County grants administrator Jeff Hauff announced that they plan to launch an aggressive effort to update the County’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan, and complete the effort within 6 months.

In the next article we will examine Jacob’s Well and Nicholson Ranch - whether they are sound conservation projects or borderline frauds financed by the taxpayers?

Lenee Lovejoy is a 15 year resident of San Marcos. After 20 years working in global corporations and public education as a systems analyst and web programmer/consultant, she decided to make a change. Today she runs a ranch with her husband and has her own web design/consulting business.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another letter writer critical of Dripping Water Supply Board's behavior


It has been a very long time since we have observed such outrageous conduct by elected Directors of any association/institution


"The truth is a hard dog to keep under the porch"

Note:
Scroll down to the letter below this one for more information. It would appear that Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation Board President Steve Harris and Director Larry Brewer are in a heap of trouble with members. We certainly welcome any comment they may have. They are facing a member recall petition and charges for removal from two sitting board directors. The board meets the first Monday of the month (next, Feb. 7), 7 pm, at the water supply's office, 101 Hays, Suite 406. Call the office 512.858.7897 for more details and the next meeting's agenda.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Letter to the Editor:

My wife and I moved into our new home in mid 2004. We just assumed, like all the members, that the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation was operating just fine since every time we turn on the faucet we get water.

We recently heard that there were some issues with the Water Supply's Board (of Directors) so we started attending the meetings. We consider the meeting on January 4, 2011 one of the most outrageous events we have witnessed in years. I must also say that the couple of meetings we attended prior to this meeting did not inspire confidence in the Board. The meeting lasted from 7pm until 11pm and still did not cover the entire agenda due to the continuous commentary from Mr. Harris (Board president), Mr. Brewer (director) and the Board's attorney Mr. Haag.

These three folk's continuing commentary left little to no opportunity for (board directors) Mr. Walden, Mr. Garnett and Mr. Wolf to contribute to the agenda.

It has been a very long time since we have observed such outrageous conduct by elected Directors of any association/institution. Had Mr. Harris conducted the meeting in a fair and impartial manner most, if not all, of the theatrics that occurred would not have happened.

The meeting was completely out of control, allowing Mr. Brewer to actually threaten to sue members who had signed a petition for a membership vote on removal of Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer. The membership is merely exercising their constitutional rights for a more transparent look at actions taken by the DS Water Corporation Board.

We are particularly appalled by the incredible legal expenses that the Board has incurred in 2010. It is my understanding that the total cost for 2010 will approach $150,000 or more. This is not surprising as Mr. Harris instructs counsel Mr. Haag to take the minutes of the meeting at a cost of $200 per hour. Nice work if you can get it.

I have examined legal expenses of the Board from January to September of 2010 by filing a Texas Open Records Request and find them to be absolutely outrageous. It is apparent that the Board's president is not able to do the simplest functions without a couple of hours consultation with Mr. Haag. Mr. Haag has certainly landed a great client.

Fortunately, the Board has a new accounting firm which is teaching the Board the difference between Accrual Basis and Cash Basis Accounting, which apparently some members did not understand. It appears the Board has been operating under Cash Basis Accounting (commonly called checkbook accounting), which is definitely not the way it should be operating.

This Board needs to have some long range planning and Capital Improvement Projects if they ever expect to grow and at least have an automated bill collections system where customers can can have an option to pay by credit card, automatic back draft or simply show up and visit with the friendly office staff while paying your bill in person. The Board needs to have a good working relationship with the city of Dripping Springs, Hays County and State of Texas water officials. Honorable people can disagree without being disagreeable.

It is this member's request that the Board accept the two documents, the membership (recall) petition and the charges filed by Board Members Walden and Garnett against Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer to proceed. Let Mr. Wolf, who made substantial efforts to move the Petition and Complaint forward, continue to follow the By-Laws as he tried multiple times to do only to be constantly interrupted by the Board's attorney, Mr. Haag, who operates under the opinion that the Board can't function without him.

I will say that on the Board's current operating path, they are and will continue to be in desperate need of legal counsel. Had all the membership attended the meeting, there may have been a need for the Deputy Sheriff, who was present, to intervene to stop what could have been a public lynching. The truth is a hard dog to keep under the porch.

Ron and JoAnne Kelly
Dripping Springs, Texas 78620

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tensions rise at Jan. 4 Dripping Water Supply board meeting


One might suspect that the reason they want to know who was involved is so they can sue them. Is it proper for the board of directors to intimidate the petition signers?


Note: Dripping Springs CPA Roy Pursley has closely followed the infighting that has now erupted into an open brawl between board directors and member-customers of the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation. He sent this open letter to the editor earlier in the week. The RoundUp's Contributing Editor Charles O'Dell has reported extensively on this story and will have more in the days ahead but was unable to attend this latest meeting. For background, here's a link to O'Dell's last story. The DSWSC provides water service to nearly 1,400 customers in the greater Dripping Springs area – homeowners, renters and commercial accounts. The corporation is guided by a set of bylaws that extend voting rights currently to 1,064 voting members. Governance is overseen by a 5-member board. Six staff members, including the general manager, Doug Cones, handle the day-to-day operations. We find it interesting, but not surprising, that coverage of this controversy-strewn story by the two local newspapers (one a sister paper of the Wimberley View) has been nonexistent or spotty at best.

Mr. Pursley, a DSWSC voting member, explained his deep interest this way: "When you go to the meetings and listen, nothing is getting accomplished. They are not getting to the business of the (water) company. They are just fighting. How long can you keep that up?"

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Mr. Pursley at
pursleycpa@verizon.net or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Letter to the Editor:


On Jan 4th there was a contentious meeting at the water board lasting until near midnight. There were several speeches which chastised certain members of the board.

The first speech cited violations of Roberts Rules by the president of the board, Steve Harris, and concluded by asking for an apology from Mr. Harris or his resignation. Mr. Harris did neither. Several speakers called for board member resignations including Mr. Chuck Sellars, former board president, who stated a very polite request that board president Mr. Harris and director Mr. Larry Brewer resign for the good of the community.

There were a number of hotly debated issues. One of these was the Recall Petition. Two current board members who had foreseen an attempt to invalidate the members’ recall petition, cut off that move by submitting a petition for removal of Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer under authority granted in the bylaws for directors to make charges.
Board director Larry Brewer, left,
and board president Steve Harris

The petition does not require any member signatures and its validation could have been done at the Jan. 4 meeting. Instead, the board voted to have legal counsel validate it so they could then delay it to the next meeting. What a waste! Now the Dripping water supply corporation is paying legal fees to validate the members’ petition when they have an exact same charge made by the directors which requires no validation.

The board did not heed members’ statements from the audience that this was a waste of money, since even if they invalidate the petition from the members, the board members' petition is valid. The board also voted to have the members’ petition validated by counsel and also to have the signers’ investigated by the attorney to see who gave them the petition to sign.

They want to know if any employees, non-members, or board members were involved. One might suspect that the reason they want to know who was involved is so they can sue them. Is it proper for the board of directors to intimidate the petition signers? Director Brewer and Director Gilbert Wolf (Secretary/Treasurer) both stated that each petitioner could be sued because they signed the petition. They implied that any employee who participated could be disciplined or fired.

Mr. Brewer spoke loudly about suing the petitioners for slander or libel. Mr. Brewer continued his diatribe even after the opposing attorney, Lynn Sherman, stated that since the board members are public officials, the burden of proof of slander was increased greatly and that it was unlikely such suit would prevail.

Is this what life in Dripping Springs has degenerated to? Why do these two board members feel that they have to intimidate the members of our water supplier into believing that they may be sued over their signature? Why not just let them vote?

Yet another bizarre event occurred when Directors Harris and Brewer stated that the board had voted 3-2 on a motion to require all communications with the attorney to go through Mr. Harris. This clearly seemed to be a move to control the attorney’s communications with board members. A great deal of time was spent blaming other board members for the legal expenses since they had communicated directly with the attorney.

Since no one else remembered this motion, a person in the audience asked when was this motion passed; they stated it was either June or July. The minutes for those months, obtained under an open document act request, simply do not show that any motion which would have required legal activity to be funneled through Mr. Harris. But just to be safe, I checked the minutes for the month before and the month after. In fact the minutes for the April 1 meeting show that the board went into executive session on this subject and NO ACTION WAS TAKEN.

At the May meeting of the board, there was discussion concerning funneling the legal request through Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris states in these minutes that no action had been taken on the issue. He further said that it was only in regard to the handbook that was being produced, not a general issue. The claim now is that a legal vote of 3-2 was held requiring all board communication be filtered through Mr Harris. Clearly, this would filter out any opposition comments to the attorney.

What is going on? Why would these board members remember a vote which the minutes do not reflect happened? Is it perhaps because there was an illegal vote in closed session for which the minutes are not available? Would this indicate an open meetings Act violation? I cannot explain the difference between what Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer assert happened and the official record of the corporation. This needs explanation. Was their memory simply faulty or was there an unrecorded vote in a closed meeting? The members have a right to know. Perhaps there are hidden minutes not available through an open records request. We need to know. It is time to end this mess!

The DS Water Supply Corp’s job is to deliver water to its member-customers at a rate acceptable to the community. The Legal expenses for the last 12 months seems to be around $158,000. The audit and tax return was $23,000. Mr. Phil Haag, attorney for DSWSC, stated in the May meeting that he could reduce his legal cost by 50% if it were not for the infighting. What a massive waste. If this is true, and the prior auditor had done the audit, then the company would have had $90,000 added to the corporations' bottom line. What is going on?

The Board is not functioning in a reasonable way. There is a petition to remove Mr. Harris and Mr Brewer. I don’t know if that is the best way to fix the problem, but I believe it is a start. These two members have controlled the board for some time, and this mess has occurred. Is it all their fault, probably not. However, they have been in charge and they don’t seem to be able to accomplish anything for the members, they just fight over trivia like who gets to post the agenda.

Perhaps they will give us the answers to these questions at the meeting to remove them so we can all judge for ourselves what their motives are. Why did they vote to fire the general manager and all the office staff and leave the corporation with no one who has experience in the administration of the company? What was the plan to staff the office and for a general manager replacement? Why do they say a motion passed to funnel the legal issues through Mr Harris when the record in the months they said it was done, does not reflect any vote? Was there an illegal vote taken during closed session?

Why does the company’s attorney attribute half of his expense to infighting? Why was the independent investigator’s report on the harassment charge of office staff not made available to the public? If it was for the protection of the employee as stated, why did the board have to agree to restrict their interactions with company employees by signing a written Board Code of Conduct? Anyone who reads this document is led to ask, what did they do to cause this level of detail to be put into their code of conduct? Why doesn't the board release the report and let us judge who was at fault? Why, Why, Why?

Have you noticed all the unanswered questions? All prior boards have been run with openness and transparency. Why not this one? It's time to end this Mess. Vote for Removal.

Roy Pursley

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Forum on 'The Texas Water War' scheduled Jan. 15 in Bastrop


If the State Pipeline becomes a reality, the Governor's allies will pick the winners and losers in the water war, threatening property rights, economic stability and local food sources


Note:
Click on the link here for the related Jan. 5 story in the San Antonio Current about oil and gas well "fracking" and the dire effects the process is having on groundwater resources in areas of South and North Texas. Some say a water crisis is already upon us – forget about the well engineered smokescreen known as the 50-year State Water Plan.
The Texas Water Development Board says the water plan "is based on a "bottom-up" consensus-driven approach to water planning." We're not so sure about the "bottom-up" claim. In reality, only a handful of policymakers, politicians and water dealers and developers are paying attention who stand to profit handsomely from the capture and sale of the remaining supply.

Send your comments and news tips to roundup.editor@gmail.com, to Ms. Curtis at
ljcurtis@indytexans.org or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Media Release from Independent Texans
Linda Curtis, Founder
Wednesday, December 5, 2011

Months ago, we incorrectly reported to some of you that the plan by private water profiteers to raid the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer that feeds Bastrop and Lee counties (aka the Simsboro Pipeline Project) was all but dead. It is VERY much alive.

Its statewide implications are now clear. On Dec. 16, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB, all 6 Perry appointees) approved the pipeline over the objections of the local community and groundwater district – while in the same breath claiming Texas could not afford water conservation.

Simsboro groundwater formation next door to Hays County
The original plan for a 50-mile, $300 million pipeline is now a 100-mile, $400-plus million pipeline. Watch the entire meeting online here – our discussion starts at 51.44.

The stage is now set for a statewide water war and the related rise of an independent (outside the parties, non-aligned) unified movement. The question is whether local communities will have any real control over their groundwater – as we have argued – a bigger, badder Trans-Texas Corridor.

Consider these facts: 1,000 people per day are moving to Texas – many from California who already lost their water war. Growth should pay for itself, but is currently rigged to help large-scale developers. (See CostofGrowth.com and ChangeAustin.org.)

Hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") is mushrooming and requires massive amounts of water. Citizens and officials in the DFW area are raising legitimate concerns about potential contamination of groundwater from thousands of wells. Now, Chinese state owned energy company investments that will help escalate fracking wells from Milam County to south Texas counties (through Fayette & Lee counties.) The Texas Railroad Commission already has the power to exempt oil and gas drilling from the regular process for groundwater permitting.

Local control of groundwater is under attack. The TWDB decision was a set up for private water vendors to sue local groundwater districts. If the State Pipeline becomes a reality, the Governor's allies will pick the winners and losers in the water war, threatening property rights, economic stability and local food sources.

We at Independent Texans have called together this forum to begin statewide organizing plans. Much more will follow this event:
The Texas Water War: Will the people unite? Saturday, January 15, 2-4 pm, Bastrop Library, 1101 Church Street. Speakers will include Steve Box, Environmental Stewardship; Phil Cook, Sierra Club; Linda Curtis, Founder, Independent Texans; Pati Jacobs, Bastrop rancher; and Judith McGeary, or her rep, from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

For more information contact Linda Curtis, Independent Texans, IndyTexans.org. PO Box 6718 Austin, TX 78762. Office, 512-535-0989. Cell, 512-657-2089.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A view on saving Jacob's Well: Much done and much more to do


Efforts to manage the Trinity Aquifer and preserve the flow of Jacob’s Well in Western Hays are more fragmented, more primitive, even though the threat to this spring and creek system is now clear

Note:
Jack Hollon is a long time Wimberley area resident and noted water conservationist. For nearly a decade, he served on the five-member board of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and currently serves as president of the board of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association. Many noble efforts have been made by various parties and interests to preserve Jacob's Well (including the nearly $5 million in investments by the county – the latest and controversial $1.7 million package deal officially closed shortly before Christmas). Still, no one has been able to say for the record that these efforts will "save" the well from going the way of so many other natural springs in Texas. There is much to this ongoing story that has yet to be reported. Coming soon, we'll add another piece to it in the RoundUp.

Hollon said this in a note to the editor: "One problem with the press release on the County's purchase of the 50 acres above the Well is that it may leave some with the impression that this purchase is sufficient to 'protect the well.' The purchase is necessary, but certainly not sufficient. To really protect the Well, i.e., to maintain the flow of that great spring, a number of things must be done in addition to physically protecting surrounding land. These will mainly include actions that 1) protect aquifer recharge that reaches the spring and 2) insure that a good part of our future water supply is met by sources other than groundwater in the Valley."

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By Jack Hollon

Guest Commentary

Hays County is blessed with two great spring-stream systems. San Marcos Springs, the main sources for Spring Lake and the San Marcos River, flow out of the Edwards Aquifer on the County’s east side. On the western half of Hays, Jacob’s Well erupts from the Trinity Aquifer and is the primary source for Cypress Creek – the heart of communities at Woodcreek and Wimberley.

Both major spring sites were important to Native Americans, and more recent European explorers found compelling reasons to locate settlements at these special places. They supplied water for people and agriculture and water power for mills to grind meal and flour, to saw lumber and gin cotton – in the days before fossil fuel engines and electric motors became our energy slaves.

As reported in Gunnar Brune’s massive Springs of Texas study in 1981, springs all across the state are now in a state of decline, with many having already been “dried up” by the impact of human pumping and land use changes. Hill Country springs and streams are especially threatened as the area’s popularity attracts population growth.

The San Marcos Springs receive protection and management from the State’s most powerful groundwater district, the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Backed by comprehensive legislation, funding, and science, the EAA manages this great aquifer for the benefit of people, agriculture, and commerce. It also insures that flows from springs along the eastern edge of the Hill Country are adequate to sustain endangered species and the health of ecological zones extending all the way to Gulf bays and estuaries. This task becomes ever more difficult as human population and water demand grow exponentially.

Other institutional support for managing San Marcos Springs comes from the presence and research efforts of Texas State University, particularly its Biology, Geology, and Geography Departments. The River Systems Institute, also headquartered at TSU, is another important player in managing these resources.

In contrast, efforts to manage the Trinity Aquifer and preserve the flow of Jacob’s Well in Western Hays are more fragmented, more primitive, even though the threat to this spring and creek system is now clear.
The drumbeat of increasing pumping, combined with frequent periods of drought, has resulted in these recent events: In 1995-96, very little spring flow, with dry areas along the Creek, prompted the creation of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association to rally support in preserving the Spring and Creek (that drought also led to passage of SB1 in 1997, which revolutionized Texas water planning); in 1999-00, flow ceased for several months in 2000, at the time the HTGCD was forming with a mission that included preserving sustainable groundwater production from wells and maintenance of spring and stream flows; and in 2008-09, spring flow ceased again, transforming Cypress Creek into a series of stagnant pools separated by dry stretches. Blue Hole was closed to the public in August ’09, and the Blanco River in Wimberley was reduced to a trickle over a dry rocky river bed.

The Texas drought of record, 1950–56, was much longer and more severe than any of these dry spells, but the Well and Creek kept flowing then. The difference: There was little pumping, compared to present water production from wells.

These clear signals from the spring-creek system and the importance of this resource to the Valley’s economy and quality of life imply that we cannot waste time in bringing intelligent effort and considerable resources to bear on the problem. And Western Hays has no institutions to match the EAA, Texas State University, et al., with their strong base in legislation, legal precedent, funding, science, research, and citizen action. This has led our local water conservation association to turn to Hays County for help.

The WVWA is a citizen-based nonprofit, organized to protect Jacob’s Well Spring by working for a healthy watershed and to help provide information and education needed for managing our water resources into the future. The urgency of the problem and our dire need for assistance and resources caused the Association to appeal to several other groups. Significant responses have come from the RSI (which now leads the “Cypress Creek Study”), The Nature Conservancy (involved in a major study of the Blanco River Watershed and in habitat protection for Hays County), and from Hays County itself, where support for Parks and Open Space Bond funds and for water resource protection has been especially strong.

The Hays Trinity GCD would also seem to be a natural partner in protecting these important assets, but the District’s confusing stance on the DFC process (Desired Future Condition for the aquifers in Groundwater Management Area 9) is causing local residents deep concern. Specifically, the District’s support for a plan to manage toward a “30-ft. average drawdown” in Hill Country water levels over the next 50 years and the eagerness to increase permitting in the middle of this complex process would seem to move us toward a future of dry springs, with streams flowing only in wet cycles.

Hays County’s leadership and support are absolutely needed if we are to save the Hill Country Jewel that Jacob’s Well and Cypress Creek represent here. Preserving the land around the Well sends a clear signal of our intentions, our resolve to preserve the Spring. The Jacob’s Well Natural Area will also provide a place for programs to do the educational and stewardship work – in conservation, in land preservation, and in making the transition to alternate water resources like rainwater harvesting – work that is needed if we are to leave the Cypress clean, clear, and flowing for future Texans to enjoy.