GUEST COMMENTARY by LOUIS B. PARKS
The 5,000-acre O’Quinn Ranch, owned by John O’Quinn until his tragic death several years ago, has been purchased by south Texas beer distributor Greg LaMantia or enterprises under his control. You will recall that this property holds the access to that portion of the Blanco River known as Little Arkansas, one of the most beautiful and environmentally sensitive areas along the entire river. The property now seems to be the play area for Mr. LaMantia and his well-connected friends. Area residents report frequent gunfire and bulldozer activity behind the high security fences surrounding the ranch.
A meeting was held in February with county officials, city officials, and area citizens. Commissioner Will Conley originally reported that beer distributor LaMantia had asked our State Rep. Jason Isaac to sponsor legislation to create a municipal utility district (MUD) on the property, just like the one put in place on the True Ranch development – the development that caused an uproar in our community and resulted in the withdrawal of the development plan.
This new proposed municipal utility district, if enacted, would allow full scale development of the former O’Quinn Ranch with only minimal oversight from Hays County and an enormous draw on our scarce water resources. County Commissioner Conley and County Judge Bert Cobb have said publicly that they do not support the MUD.
Now, it seems that our freshman State Sen. Donna Campbell has been asked to make a run at creating the municipal utility district. She has filed Senate Bill 1868 to create the MUD, which cleverly excludes that land within the city of Wimberley’s ETJ, thus avoiding having to ask for the city’s concurrence. In lock step, just a day later, State Rep. Jason Isaac filed an identical companion bill, HB 3918.
It would appear that LaMantia’s plan is to make a bundle off the municipal utility district through a big tax write-off with the help of Campbell and Isaac. LaMantia says that he wants to dedicate a conservation easement on the property. But before he dedicates the conservation easement and takes a write-off against the depreciated value of the property, LaMantia, with Campbell’s and Isaac’s help, wants to enhance the appraised value of the property with the legislatively created municipal utility district.
County officials, city officials, and area citizens support the preservation of the 5,000 acre ranch through dedication of a conservation easement over the property, but oppose the MUD.
However, it is our view that the proposed municipal utility district creation and subsequent conservation easement dedication do not pass the “smell test” that should be applied to all such proposals.
First it seems like a highly contrived arrangement utilizing special legislation for the benefit of one individual.
Then you must also ask, what if the municipal utility district were put in place and no conservation easement ever dedicated? The danger is unrestricted development and a huge draw on our extremely limited water resources – all for the benefit of an absentee owner.
LaMantia’s plan should seek the endorsement of the Hays County Commissioners Court and must garner the votes of our elected legislature.
We believe we must all stand up, as we did against the original True Ranch development fiasco, and tell Campbell and Isaac to take care of their constituents, not one businessman from south Texas who wants to benefit at the expense of the taxpayers of Hays County.
LOUIS PARKS chairs the Wimberley Valley-based environmental group, Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development. Since April 9, when he wrote this commentary as a letter to Hays County residents, the Wimberley city council has passed a resolution opposing creation of the Needmore Ranch Municipal Utility District. Parks can be reached by email here.