San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 20th, 2011
Hays County decides against pursuing LCRA utilities purchase


Efforts to keep the Lower Colorado River Authority’s West Travis County Regional Water System in public hands were dealt a setback on Tuesday when the Hays County Commissioners Court rejected a proposal to join a coalition of local governments looking to bid for the far-flung utility.

Hays County, along with Travis County and various municipalities and water supply corporations in both jurisdictions, is scrambling to meet a May 23 deadline set by LCRA to make an offer on the system, which includes a water intake and treatment plant at Lake Travis; a web of pipelines that transport water into northern Hays County and elsewhere; and a cluster of retail water supply company along the pipelines’ route. LCRA announced in November that it would divest itself of the water system in which it has invested as much of $300 million over the last decade and a half because it is not paying for itself to the tune of $300,000 a month.

Officials assume they will be competing against private interests such as the much maligned Aqua Texas which they fear would be concerned foremost with its bottom line, rather than the welfare of Central Texas residents. Aqua Texas, which already provides water to thousands of often dissatisfied customers in the Wimberley area, is considering a bid for the project, according to a trade magazine published in January, officials said.

“I do not believe the people … would be happy if they turned over control of Hays County water to some foreign government or some California company or whatever,” County Judge Bert Cobb said, echoing statements from Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley who has hinted that Chinese investors might be in the running to buy the system.

But on Tuesday, Conley was on a family vacation and his absence proved fatal, at least temporarily, for the effort. A proposal sponsored by Ray Whisenant to become a charter member of the nonprofit Coalition of Central Texas Utilities Development Corp. was defeated 2-2 with commissioners Mark Jones and Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe dissenting and with Cobb joining Whisenant in support. Whisenant said he will likely try again next week when Conley is expected to return.

Whisenant’s agenda item almost didn’t receive a hearing after his first motion failed to garner a second until Jones, at Cobb’s prodding, seconded the motion for the sake of discussion. Jones said little about the proposal in court on Tuesday but during a meeting with taxpayer activists in Buda on March 22 he said the county’s participation in purchasing the water system was not an option as far as he was concerned.

Whisenant, Cobb and Pix Howell, a former LCRA board member who lives near Wimberley, said joining the coalition would not commit the county to making a bid on the water system or incur any cost at all.

“This is simply a vehicle for the county to do business with LCRA,” including gaining access to a full range of data about the system and hiring a financial adviser to help parse the complexities of such a big-ticket purchase, Howell said.

At one point in the conversation, Ingalsbe nodded to the potential pitfalls of the system being purchased by private interests.

“It’s scary to think of who might purchase this and we’d be dealing with somebody from no-telling-where,” Ingalsbe said.

As many as 12,000 Hays County end users buy water from LCRA, Whisenant said, either directly from the West Travis County Regional Water System or through middlemen like the Belterra subdivision’s water control and improvement districts.

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4 thoughts on “Hays County decides against pursuing LCRA utilities purchase

  1. Clarify:

    Is Hays County looking to buy all 32 LCRA water/wastewater
    facilities, or only those in the West Travis Region?

  2. Hays County “wouldn’t incur any expense at all” by joining the
    coalition? Do Cobb, Whisenant, and Conley think the attorneys,
    financial adviors, and other hired personnel will work for free?

  3. @Many Questions

    I think the argument was that simply joining the coalition itself wouldn’t cost anything and the coalition won’t have the authority to expend money without Commissioners Court approval.

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