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May 12th, 2010
County receives $425K for Hamilton Creek damage

051210commissioners

Left to right, Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, Precinct 2 Commissioner Will Conley and Hays County Engineer Jerry Borcherding share a laugh at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a $425,000 settlement agreement offered by firms whose activities contributed to the pollution of Hamilton Creek in Travis County.

Coldwater Development, Ltd. and Rodman Excavation, Inc. will pay the bulk of the settlement for their role in the sedimentation of the creek. Plaintiffs in the settlement claim the firms failed to implement adequate erosion control measures during the course of construction activities associated with the Ranches at Hamilton Pool, a development located in both Travis and Hays Counties near the junction of RR 12 and FM 3238. Heavy May and June rains in 2007 contributed to a significant release of sediment runoff from the construction sites, which were largely located in Hays County.

Hays County will use the money to recoup legal, staff-time, and environmental consulting costs it incurred in the three-year-long litigation. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit included Travis and Hays counties, the State of Texas, and some Travis County property owners. The total settlement to the plaintiffs adds up to $3.5 million.

Travis County’s portion of the settlement is $2.1 million, which it will use to remove sediment from Hamilton Creek and from Hamilton Pool. According to Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), Travis County’s cleanup costs were assessed at $2.3 million. Travis County commissioners approved the settlement agreement in March 2009.

“It’s a victory for Hays County, and it’s a victory for that watershed, and it’s a victory for taxpayers, and I would like to congratulate Commissioner Ford, who’s taken the lead on it, and also (Hays County District Attorney Civil Division Chief) Mark Kennedy and (Hays County) District Attorney Sherri Tibbe’s office, and our staff at Environmental Health and RPTP (Resource Protection, Transportation and Planning Department), who’ve done an excellent job,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). “This is a place where the court stood in unity on an issue and stood with some regional partners and local landowners … This isn’t a case of picking on some poor development in a grey area — this was a place where real environmental damage was done, and now we’re going to see that damage cleaned-up, and we’re going to see Hays County taxpayers recoup that effort to do that.”

Ford, in whose precinct lies a part of the development where the most erosion occurred, said Coldwater Development and Rodman Excavation should have aligned roads in the development with the natural contours of the earth.

“They were cutting and filling so that the road was just flat, pretty much,” Ford said. “And so there was a lot of road work being done, a lot of earth being moved, and not adequate controls for the construction or the sedimentation. And when all that rain came, it all started sliding down the hill, and into the creek, and into Hamilton Pool. So, that is when we all were alerted, and we stopped construction over there several times and went out there with different sets of experts and groups in order to get the development stabilized, to put up the kinds of controls that really worked. We worked with LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority), we worked with our own staff.”

Asked whether the county will have any money left over from the settlement, said Ford: “Not that we can speak of.”

Ford said a biological assessment conducted by an environmental engineering firm indicated “there was suffocation in the creek.”

Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) thanked Ford for her “leadership” and expressed her appreciation for Kennedy, who, she said, “spent a lot of hours” working on behalf of the county to reach the settlement.

“This is a marked change in the way Hays County has operated before when it came to environmental issues,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley). “The day we stood up and filed the lawsuits was a good day for us, and today is an even better day now that we’ve reached a settlement that favors our citizens and helps us tremendously as we move forward and set that standard for the future. So, it is a pretty historical day for me, at least, and thank you Jeff, for your leadership on this, and Mark, all your work — I know you worked really hard on this.”

Barton thanked Sumter in turn.

“I know our staff’s worked a lot of hours on this, and our attorneys, and I’m just happy to see that this was resolved in our favor,” said Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley) “That creek will be cleaned up, and that’s great for Central Texas.”

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