Update for March 27, 2008

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SGVA asks county to join fight against SAWS expansion

By William Hoover
Anvil Herald Correspondent

     The San Antonio Water System Board of Directors last Dec. 4 seemed to be proud of a unanimous decision to deny a water and sewer service agreement with Baruch Properties (BP) for its 1,766 acre Hills of Castle Rock subdivision. The planned site is near State Highway 16 and Park Road 37, and the nearest SAWS water main is 7.5 miles away. SAWS now, however, wants to provide utility services to the area and is pursuing utility service permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
At the SAWS Board meeting four months ago, San Antonio Mayor and Ex-officio Board Member Phil Hardberger, offered the motion to deny the Utility Service Agreement (USA) with BP to provide water and sewer service in the remote area northwest of San Antonio, saying he wanted to protect the Edwards Aquifer and those who rely on it.
     “Density development in a sensitive zone simply is not a good thing for the citizens of San Antonio, for our city, for our neighbors or for our water,” Hardberger told the SAWS Board according to Jerry Needham’s San Antonio Express~News article on Dec. 5.
     Hardberger said the city’s “irreversible mistakes” in planning over the Edwards Aquifer’s sensitive areas are on display for anyone driving out Loop 1604 North and U.S. 281. “I would like to keep this last watershed as pure as we can,” said the mayor, as quoted by Needham.
     Similarly, SAWS Board President Alex Breseño said he opposed the leapfrog type development which would occur if SAWS extended utilities almost eight miles from its nearest water main.
     On March 10, San Geronimo Valley Alliance President Randy Johnson asked Medina County Commissioners for their support in opposing SAWS’ application for CCN permits to provide sewer and water service in northeast Medina County. He said SAWS was circumventing its unanimous decision not to provide the HoCR with sewer or water by applying for CCN permits for both services in northeast Medina County, northwest Bexar County and 40 acres inside Bandera County. The CCN neatly captures the entire HoCR subdivision, which occupies parts of all three counties.
     Johnson, a Medina County resident, told commissioners they should be as interested in protecting the environmental health of ecosystems in its jurisdictional territory as are cities in Bexar County.
     He said SAWS had applied for an expansion of its CCN area for both water and sewer services, which will include all of northwest Bexar County and a large part of northeast Medina County. “This application includes an area that is outside of the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of San Antonio,” said the SGVA President.
     “A number of organizations are opposed to this application, including the SGVA, the Helotes Heritage Association (HHA), the Hill Country Planning Association (HCPA) and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA). These organizations are opposed to the enlargement of SAWS CCN because they fear that, if allowed over this area, there will be unbridled growth similar to what occurred on FM 1957,” Johnson told the court.
     “The San Geronimo watershed accounts for seven to ten percent of the total recharge of the Edwards Aquifer,” he said. “This kind of growth will have a negative impact on the quality of water available for a large number of Medina County citizens. It will also affect the storm water runoff along the San Geronimo Creek and cause possible flooding in the City of Castroville.”
     According to Johnson, on Feb. 26, the City of Grey Forest (near Helotes in northwest Bexar County), pop. 418, passed a motion to retain the law firm of Lowerre, Frederick, Perales and Allmon for the purpose of representing Grey Forest in contesting SAWS sewer application.
     Johnson wanted commissioners to put an item on the agenda to discuss the possibility of Medina County retaining the same law firm to contest SAWS application for the water CCN. He told commissioners the law firm is currently working on this CCN for both the GEAA and the SGVA.
     “If Grey Forest can make a commitment such as this, then Medina County, whose citizens will be more directly impacted than the citizens of Grey Forest, should be willing to make a similar commitment,” he said.
     According to Johnson, Grey Forest and the surrounding communities wish Medina County would show leadership on the issue because home-owners living in the area where SAWS wants to extend its CCN use Trinity Aquifer water and are surrounded by over 1,600 acres of land purchased with taxpayer’s money. The land is held in conservation by the City of San Antonio to protect the Edwards Aquifer.
     “The Helotes, Lee and Chimnea Creeks and their tributaries converge in Grey Forest and its ETJ,” he said. “They are critical to aquifer recharge. The initial sewer construction and potential leakage are threats to these creeks and the aquifer. Grey Forest will be working closely with the law firm, the GEAA, and other organizations in this matter.”
     If the item could be put on an upcoming agenda, John-son requested to be notified as soon as the decision is made so the he could arrange for expert witnesses to attend.
     County Judge Jim Barden asked a couple of questions, but the SGVA President was not aware he had gained support from the court. Last weekend, however, Precinct 1 Commissioner Ronnie Ulbrich responded to Johnson’s comments. The portion of Medina County in question is in Pct. 1.
     “Certainly, I don’t blame them for opposing the SAWS CCN,” said Ulbrich. “They want to prevent high-density development. Personally, I am not in favor of high-density development, other than what is allowed in our subdivision rules and regulations for garden apartments or condominiums. I know how they feel because that is a very sensitive area. There are only four recharge streams for the Ed-wards Aquifer, the Seco, the Parker, the Middle Verde and the San Geronimo Creeks. If you start getting high-density development in that watershed there won’t be enough filtration for the fertilizers and pesticides people will put on their lawns. The runoff will flow straight into the San Geronimo Creek and they are very concerned about that.”
     The Precinct 1 Commissioner said he would be willing to put an item on the county’s agenda to discuss the possibility of adopting a resolution opposing the SAWS water and sewer CCN permits in northeast Medina County, after he researches the issue a bit more. “I would not be adverse to discussing it, even if all we could do is say we disapprove of it,” Ulbrich said.
     The SGVA does not object to all development in far northeast Medina County, says Ulbrich. The group knows development is coming, but they want a more environmentally friendly development which will not pollute the San Geronimo Creek, their wells or the aquifer.
      “SAWS is so powerful and, once they get up in that area, high-density development will follow,” said Ulbrich. “I’ve always told (the SGVA) as far as my vote goes I’m for enforcing our subdivision rules and regulations. I do not advocate high-density development, especially in areas like the SGVA is concerned about. Mr. Johnson did say he’d appreciate a letter from the court opposing SAWS CCN in northeast Medina County. I don’t know whether we have any authority, but it could be an agenda item and Judge Barden could be very open to it as well.”
     Barden, contacted Tuesday, said he was open to supporting the SGVA in opposing the water and sewer applications, especially if they circumvented the unanimous decision made by the SAWS Board on Dec. 4.
     “I don’t have enough information yet to put it on the agenda,” said Barden. “But if SAWS is seeking to extend their CCN into the area, I’d have some serious problems with them trying to do that. It would be like SAWS was coming in the back door. I’d probably want to protest that on my own even if it wasn’t a commissioners court item.”
     Barden said he had not been able to pin down exactly where SAWS is seeking to extend its CCN. “If SAWS comes into Medina County, to me they are like any other water purveyor,” said the judge. “I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem if they act like big heroes and now they want to sneak in the back door. If Mayor Hardberger was sincere about what he did, I’m not sure he would appreciate the SAWS staff trying to do this to him.”
     If SAWS does not provide sewer and water, the development in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone (EARZ) would be along the lines of Dancing Bear Subdivision, according to Barden, with people using private wells for water and septic tanks for sewage. Johnson says the SGVA has no objection to people living on lots in the EARZ up to the point of the land’s carrying capacity—where there is still ample water and room for sewage to be naturally cleaned by infiltration into the ground.
     Johnson, Tuesday evening, said he was happy to hear Barden and Ulbrich were prepared to support the SGVA. He said he would provide maps to the county judge because what SAWS is proposing is suspicious, according to Johnson.
     “I think it is wonderful that Medina County officials are incensed about what SAWS is trying to do,” said the SGVA President. “If SAWS denied (the HoCR service agreement) only making themselves look good, getting headlines, and then they circumvent the denial by going around their decision, I don’t know who would approve that.”
     Johnson said the county could not hire a lawyer, as he initially requested, because they are not a party in standing regarding the SAWS CCN opposition. “The county could help fund the attorneys because (the SGVA) have a standing,” said Johnson. “We’d be happy if they would support the resolution we are preparing. The way it stands right now, SAWS is reviewing the whole thing and trying to get out of the mess they are in. Like I told commissioners, if we could show a united front, SAWS will be willing to take the area out of their CCN application. That is what Alex Breseño told Annalisa Peace of the GEAA. (Breseño) said they are looking at removing the whole northwest quadrant from their CCN. If I had my druthers, I would like the county to send SAWS a letter saying they are opposed to the CCN going so far into Medina County. It goes all the way from Hwy 16 and Park Road 37 down to FM 471.”
     Johnson said TCEQ is set to consider SAWS water and sewer CCNs at a different meeting. “The SAWS water CCN is due to come up for review by TCEQ in June, but SAWS wants a three-month abatement to figure out what they are going to do,” he said. “The extension of SAWS CCN makes SAWS’ prior action to deny utilities to HoCR totally useless because, if granted, SAWS would be required to serve HoCR.”


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