The proposed Wilson Ranch Fresh Water Supply District (FWSD) is dead … for now.
On a 4-1 vote, Henderson County Commissioners’ Court denied a petition to form the FWSD Tuesday following a public hearing which saw attorneys from both sides present their case.
An attorney for the FWSD said that the commissioners’ decision can be appealed to the District Court or resubmitted to the county.
Even though the district was not created, commissioners were sympathetic to the reason the petition was filed: As a defense against a 9-foot-in-diameter water pipeline one commissioner said would cause “devastation” across the county.
WHAT IS IT
An FWSD is a political subdivision of the state — a government entity — meaning it has the power to levy and collect a tax, hold bond elections, build infrastructure, and is run by an elected board.
The proposed district is about 1,090 acres completely inside Henderson County, with no part in the City of Athens extraterritorial jurisdiction, according to the petition. The proposed district is made up of four tracts of land and includes the East Texas Ranch LP, but commissioners noted Tuesday that they have never actually seen a map of the proposed FWSD.
According to the petition, “An adequate waterworks system, capable of delivering fresh water throughout the district, does not currently exist in the district. Consequently, the construction, maintenance and operations of an adequate waterworks system is necessary to assure the health and welfare
of the present and future inhabitants of the district and adjacent areas and to reduce or eliminate the need to import fresh water from outside the district.”
Attorney David Smith, representing the FWSD, said the petition was filed to protect the area’s water supply and to be more self-sufficient.
Although there were few details about the FWSD, Smith said there were absolutely no plans to sell water outside of the county. He said the FWSD was prepared to put that in writing.
While the petition talks about eliminating “the need to import fresh water from outside,” an attorney from the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) told commissioners the move was simply a ploy to stop a planned TRWD water pipe from crossing East Texas Ranch LP property.
TRWD attorney Hal Ray told Commissioners’ Court the petition for the Fresh Water Supply District was the latest tactic in a battle that goes back to October 2011. The two sides — TRWD and East Texas Ranch LP — have been in court continually since that time.
Ray told commissioners a Municipal Utility District, the Lazy W District No. 1, was created in the same area by the Texas Legislature in 2011.
Ray said East Texas Ranch LP later imported some endangered deer and tried to have the Legislature change the Lazy W into a Conservation District in 2013. When that bill failed, the Lazy W made the change to a Conservation District under its own authority. That Conservation District remains in place today.
Ray also described a number of other tactics to thwart TRWD’s plan to get a 150-foot right-of-way through East Texas Ranch LP, including the dedication of multiple cemeteries. According to Ray, eminent domain can not be used to cross a cemetery. One of the cemeteries dedicated was about 10 feet wide and followed the entire east border of the property, said Ray.
When asked after the meeting Tuesday, all five members of Commissioners’ Court said they believed the main reason for the proposed FWSD was to stop the Tarrant Regional Water District pipeline.
REASONS TO SAY NO
Commissioners’ Court voted 4-1 to deny the petition to create the FWSD with Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Geeslin voting in the minority.
The commissioners who voted against the FWSD said the area was already covered by the Conservation District and already had a Municipal Utility District formed by the State Legislature. Those moves meant the East Texas Ranch LP already had the powers a FWSD would bring, they said.
Commissioners questioned the FWSD attorney about specifics, including the water district’s future plans, a map of the area, and even the number of registered voters in the area, but the attorney could not provide answers on Tuesday.
Commissioners were also told that the FWSD area was already served by three other water utilities.
For those reasons, the court voted against the petition.
DENIAL DOESN’T MEAN SUPPORT
While commissioners voted against the FWSD petition Tuesday, don’t believe they are happy about the Tarrant Regional Water District pipeline.
The Fort Worth Business Press describes the project: “The joint $2.3 billion project of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) will entail construction of 149 miles of new pipeline and related infrastructure running from Lake Palestine in East Texas to Benbrook Lake in Tarrant County, with connections to the TRWD’s Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs in East Texas.”
Geeslin said the pipeline TRWD plans to take across the East Texas Ranch LP is 9 feet in diameter. Considering the drain on Lake Palestine, the damage to the landscape and the impact of construction trucks on the roads, he said the project would “wreak devastation” on Henderson County.
The prospect of what’s coming has several of the commissioners concerned.
The pipeline, which will take 20 years or more to complete, will run from Lake Palestine in the southeast corner of the county to Cedar Creek Lake in the northwest.