A map depicting the Purgatory Creek Natural Area plus about 601 additional acres to the west, shown at a Parks and Open Space Advisory Board meeting in October. Trust for Public Land Project Manager Lori Olson stands to the left. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County commissioners awarded $1,697,256 to four parks and open space projects Tuesday, all but drying up what remained of a $30 million parks and open space bond passed by the same court in May 2007.
Among Tuesday’s expenditures is $800,000 for the Trust for Public Land, which seeks approximately 601 acres to add to the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area in San Marcos.
In the same motion, commissioners awarded $310,000 in parks bond funds for the Bradfield Park Trail project (sponsored by the City of Buda), $140,000 for the Buda Skate Park project (sponsored by the City of Buda), and $447,256 for the Hays Youth Sports Complex Improvements project (sponsored by the Hays County Youth Athletic Association).
After the aforementioned allocations, there is approximately $100,000 left from the 2007 parks bond approved overwhelmingly by voters.
The new commissioners court to be seated in January will likely decide how to spend the remaining parks bond funds, which it may opt to use for additional projects or for contingencies related to already-funded projects. The composition of the commissioners court will change: the three incoming members are Republicans and the three outgoing members are Democrats.
In November, at least two commissioners said the six projects would be considered for funding. In the end, though, the sponsors of the Bear Creek Greenbelt Trail Extension and Neighborhood Park found themselves without bond funding, though the project was ranked in the top four by the county’s Parks and Open Space Advisory Board (POSAB). The Bear Creek project, sponsored by the Hays County Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) No. 2, asked for $280,000 in parks bond funds.
Hays County WCID No. 2 Treasurer Robert Krick rose from his place in the audience Tuesday and told commissioners they were disregarding the work of the POSAB, which was appointed by the commissioners court to score and rank incoming applications for bond funds. Twelve applicants responded to the county’s latest call for projects.
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) interrupted and offered to use the remaining $100,000 to increase funding for the Hays County Youth Athletic Association, thereby depriving Hays County WCID No. 2 of any chance at receiving a parks bond grant. Barton said the court has allocated funding in such a way over the past few months as to allow more money for more projects than otherwise would have been available.
Barton said the question was raised as to whether the county funding Hays County WCID No. 2’s project would constitute “benefiting private equity partners or a private development” — though Barton then said Hays County WCID No. 2 has made a good argument that its project does benefit the public. Barton suggested that Hays County WCID No. 2 still has a shot at the remaining $100,000.
The commissioners court did not task POSAB with making recommendations regarding project funding.
Others displeased with the court’s allocation of most of the remaining bond funds included Wimberley resident Carl Owens, a lead sponsor of Swimberley, an ultra-energy-efficient natatorium proposed for construction in Wimberley.
Among the 12 applicants who answered the county’s latest call for parks bond projects, five received funding. Of those five applicants, only Dripping Springs was awarded all that it requested. Commissioners voted 3-2 on Nov. 23 to fund Dripping Springs’ Harrison Ranch Park with $1.7 million.
TPL Project Manager Lori Olson said the 601-acre expansion of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area project should occur within three years, “but hopefully sooner,” she said. The 601-parcel consists of a 289-acre tract and a 312-acre tract each owned by different people.
“It’s a beautiful tract,” said Olson of the 289-acre tract in October. “It’s got oak-juniper forest, pretty densely covered in most areas. There’s some open, more grassy, wildflowery meadows kind of interspersed in a few spots. There’s nice cliffs. The property is 100 percent on the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.”
Both tracts have similar vegetation, are in the aquifer recharge zone, and are just outside the city limits, said Olson.
The city owns the current 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area, which the county helped acquire with a previous parks bond grant award. Should acquisition of the 601 acres prove a success, the city will likely manage and hold title to the additional land.
TPL estimates the 601-acre expansion of the Purgatory Creek Natural Area will cost $8.95 million. Therefore, the county’s grant of $800,000 is only a small portion needed for the land acquisition. Additional funds may come from the City of San Marcos, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, Carma Texas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and private donors. Carma has offered $300,000 to help purchase the 289-acre tract in lieu of dedicating more parkland for its planned Paso Robles development in San Marcos.
TPL representatives say their odds of receiving a USFWS grant of up to $6 million are good. TPL has an option on the 601 acres until November 2011. Unless TPL receives the USFWS grant, it is unlikely to secure the full 601 acres. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley) said that if TPL does not receive the USFWS grant, the county and its partners may opt to buy one of the tracts instead of both, or fall back on options yet to be determined.
TPL and its partners must contribute a minimum of 25 percent of the estimated project cost in order to receive the USFWS grant. Also, the county’s regional habitat conservation plan (RHCP) must be approved by USFWS before TPL will be eligible for the USFWS grant, which is a Section 6 Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grant.
The county’s grants administration office estimates it may be three to six months before the county’s RHCP is approved. It may be at least six months before the Trust for Public Land learns whether it will receive the USFWS grant.
County officials discovered that about $238,256 more parks bond funds were available than before, due to frequently changing interest rates.
Correction: this article originally stated the Purgatory Creek Natural Area Expansion project involves the acquisition of an additional 589 acres. It actually involves the acquisition of approximately 601 acres.