Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flak Catcher Handles Angry Citizens, Senate Candidate

BRA's Matt Phillips meets Open Records request - on video

Look out, kid; they keep it all hid. - Bob Dylan, ca. 1965

His job is to handle relations with governments and
customers. A young man with about 4 years experience as a
manager, he is very professional and in command of the
facts. To his left and right at the massive conference
table sat seven staff members who helped him round up the
records his questioners had come to examine.

The confrontation came soon as the questions emerged.

The young official leveled his gaze across the conference
table at the Brazos River Authority offices on Waco's Cobbs
Drive and regarded his questioners, a couple whose Lake
Granbury property has been steadily appraised with higher
and higher value and yet has seen a steadily receding

"Reservoirs are designed to be used," Matt Phillips told Joe
Williams and his wife. Developed in 1964, Lake Granbury "is
not a recreational lake. Recreation is one of the purposes
for the lake, but its primary use is as a reservoir."

Of needs, he patiently explains, the lake levels rise and
fall accordingly.

"We have tried to influence the real estate developers to
not tell people that Lake Granbury is a constant level lake.
But we can't make them not say it."

A special purpose district, the Brazos River Authority does
not have taxing authority, though there is legislative and
executive oversight through the Governor's appointment of
its 21-member board and the state laws that govern its

"Our puropse is to operate outside the state's budget
process," Mr. Phillips explained. "So we don't get any tax

The authority is empowered to control the flow of the Brazos
River and sell its raw waters "for any useful purpose."

Joe Williams and his wife are members of the steering
committee of the Lake Granbury Waterfront Owners
Association, a civic group that is watching with concern as
the design thrust of the lake, from their point of view,
seems to be shifting in unison with the development of a
massive $35 billion State Water Plan.

In periods of wet weather conditions, when the lake is full,
the agency is obliged by law to pass through every acre foot
above flood stage through its dams' sluice gates and on

In periods of drought, Mr. Phillips explained, the authority
is charged by state law to conserve water and sell it for
any useful purpose to all customers.

The outlook is uncertain as to what will happen to the state
of waterfront properties in the three-lake system managed by
BRA - Possum Kingdom, Lake Granbury, and Lake Whitney.

Everyone concerned is awaiting an engineering study by the
Ft. Worth consultants, Freese and Nichols. The engineering
study regards everything from docks and boat ramps to the
future of the hydroelectric facilities at Possum Kingdom and
the status of Lake Granbury as a reservoir. The BRA board
ordered the study on September 29 at its regular quarterly

"This could result in the decommissioning of the Possum
Kingdom hydroelectric generating station," said Darren
Yancy, a Burleson insurance and venture capital specialist
who is a candidate for State Senate District 22 running
against former Senator David Sibley for the unexpired term
of Senator Kip Averitt, chief sponsor of the massive new
state water plan.

The Williamses are angry. Plenty angry. They have driven an
hour and a half from Granbury to meet with Mr. Yancy, The
Legendary and seven members of the authority's staff to go
over documents supporting the maintenance and upkeep of the
Morris Sheppard Dam at Possum Kingdom.

After the Tuesday morning meeting, Mrs. Williams spoke up
outside the authority's headquarters building.

"The voters of Texas have not awakened yet. They're still
asleep...By George, Kip Averitt pulled out of the race and
they still voted for him. Why? 'Oh! I think I've heard of
that guy. I think I'll vote for him.'"

She speaks of she thinks of as a slide into a socialist
morass that may redefine the limits of private property as
it has been known for centuries.

"We got a clear picture of what does actually go on in the
day to day maintenance of the dams."

Mr. Yancy pointed out that if David Sibley is elected, he
will regain all his former seniority as a State Senator who
served for 11 years in that chamber working on such thorny
issues as electrical deregulation, insurance costs of doing
business as pass through expenses to consumers, toll road
authorities, eminent domain and telephone deregulation and
interface fees.

"With his seniority, he could become the head of any
committee he wants. Potentially, he could be the next
Lieutenant Governor of Texas."

He and the Williamses decried the fact that the BRA has in
effect stopped using a "green" source of electrical energy
generation in its Possum Kingdom power station.

They had been poring over the hard copy documents inside the
building while the seven authority employees sat and watched
them and captured their images on video and audio tape.

They were given two CD's with the expense records of the
authority's maintaining the hydroelectric power generating
equipment. The Granbury couple and Mr. Yancy left with the
electronic records with the intentions of poring over them
to discover all they can about the way the penstocks and
turbines that generate electricity when the system is on-

It was built by the WPA in 1938 and was put on-line in 1942.

"We didn't find any evidence to show what had or had not
been done," Mr. Yancy concluded. "If they decommission the
hydroelectric power project at Possum Kingdom it will affect
Lake Granbury. You're looking at something that could have
a devastating effect on the economic life of Hood County.
After all, Lake Granbury is Hood County."

The records did show that $5.9 million in bond funds had
been allocated and spent with an additional $1 million in
receipts for other expenses relative to the Morris Sheppard

On another interesting note, in passing the team of interest-
ed citizens who inspected the documents asked how audits of
BRA's operations are performed. They were told there are
two separate audit processes, one performed by outside ac-
counting firms, the other by an internal auditor.

A couple of weeks ago, the authority's internal auditor
moved on down the road, vacating his position.

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