Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tough Cookies Steer Granbury Property Owners Assn.

They are organized and focused to track BRA Policy

They meet once a month in a Mexican restaurant on the main
drag in Granbury. They're dead serious and aside from the
odd touch of humor, their deliberations are stolidly focused
on one narrow issue.

These people are fighting for the economic future of Hood
County. It's their story; it's their song. They're sticking
to it.

Make no mistake, the future of Lake Granbury is the economic
future of Hood County.

They all agree on that mission.

A steering committee of 15 who represent a voting block of
750 lake front property owners, they meet at Mi Familia
Restaurant to firm up their agenda.

In the best traditions of keep it simple, there are only two
items on it.

The first is to see to it that the Brazos River Authority
maintains as close to a constant level in the lake as
possible. Nothing else will do, they explain.

Second, the appraisal of waterfront property that was
foreclosed upon by lenders at $33,000 and is now for sale at
a price of $75,000 is something that will eventually drown
them in debt to the tax man.

They simply can't afford it. They agree on that.

These are tough economic times. That property is just not
worth its appraised value and they're pretty sure the
Central Appraisal District is about to set their assessed
valuation higher once again this year.

Those two mantras are repeated and reiterated and preached
and taught and absorbed and emphasized for re-emphasis
repeatedly any time you sit down with the Lake Granbury
Waterfront Owners Association.

They are a narrow focus group, one that is leaving claw
marks all over the American dream as it slips away from more
and more people every day. It's the way business is done in
election year 2010 and it's spontaneous, grassroots up and
not top down.


"We want our constatnt level lake back. We've had 40 years
of pretty constant level (692.5 feet above sea level) and
now they tell us those days are over," says a woman known
only as Bretta, a wheel and a live wire who is everywhere
studying documents, listening in on Nuclear Regulatory
Commission committee meetings and County Commissioners,
tapes of BRA board meetings and candidates for office.

Another woman who did not identify herself said, "We have a
major disagreement with the way they are managing our water
since 2007...We're listening to the people - the BRA - as if
we can't trust anything they say."

When The Legendary pointed out to her that the BRA never
said Lake Granbury is a constant level lake, she countered,
saying "But that's the way it was marketed to us and that's
the way our property is appraised!"

Until last month, the Authority referred to Granbury as a re-
creational lake on its website. Suddenly, the tune has changed.

Not everyone on the steering committee agrees with that
estimation.

A man who prefers not to be identified "because I have
friends on the BRA board," gave an assessment of the central
conflict between highly taxed property owners and the policy
makers of the Authority, the members of its board.

Here's how it goes.

Luminant, formerly TXU, wants to build two more new nuclear
reactors at Comanche Peak near Glen Rose.

To do that, they will need a lot more water to use for the
purpose of cooling the reactor cores and keeping the spent
fuel rods cool in containment ponds. A lot more water.

Problem: "They don't own the rights to the water." The
Authority is a special purpose district without taxing power
and organized under the scrutiny of the Texas Legislature,
which passed the enabling legislation for the Authority to
manage the flow of the Brazos from Lubbock to its outfall at
Freeport and market its waters for any useful purpose. Its
board of directors is appointed by the Governor of Texas.
Hydroelectric power stations integral to the dams operated
by BRA on the river is regulated by the Federal Electrical
Power Commission (FERC).

This is what BRA has the right to do. For every acre foot
of water above flood stage, the Authority is required to
release that water downstream and then market it for any
useful purpose.

The man continues with his opinion of what is happening in
this major policy shift that is affecting the taxable worth
of their property.

When it comes to Possum Kingdom Reservoir, "They're asking
for the rights to the water that's already there." He
thinks the BRA board has found a way to do that.

How is that to be accomplished?

That's simple enough, he continues. They made a decision to
shut down the Morris Sheppard Dam's hydroelectric power
station, closing the flood gates and not passing any water
through its sluices.

The result is that a customer who has long purchased the 24
megavolts of electrical power the depression-era WPA-built
dam puts on the power grid, Brazos Electrical Power Co-0p,
is suing the Authority for a breach of contract. It is a
half-million dollar yearly purchase of electric power they
can't get because the generators were shut off in favor of
spending no further bond money on their upkeep.

"That lawsuit might just be something that has been very
convenient for them," he ventures. The fact that the suit
precludes the managers and board members from discussing the
matter seems to work in their favor, he stresses.

What purpose would the water have now that they don't have
to keep a constant flow of water coming through the dam?

They can market it to Luminant for cooling water.

The committee took action, assigning him to write a brief
policy statement they can report to the BRA at its quarterly
board meeting on April 26.

His goal, to make the statement as brief as possible and as
much to the point as he may, is a study in pragmatism.
Though he makes no objection to The Legendary publishing his
remarks in general, he insists they may not be attributed to
him by name.

After all, it's only his life savings on the line. Why not
be reasonable and do it his way?

But not everyone is so circumspect. Joe Williams and his
wife Kim have been attending Council of Government meetings
on the stimulus package. The proposal is that Federal money
be spent on studying and maintaining the watershed that
drains into Lake Granbury.

Their finding is kind of grim. They are the only citizens
and property owners who ever attend those meetings. Other
than bureaucrats, employees of local governments, the only
people who do make the meetings are board appointees whose
hit and miss attendance draws a jaundiced view from the
couple.

They vow to find out what, exactly, the strings attached to
any federal money might be.

Mr. Williams also agrees to draft incisive questions for the
candidates to fill Senator Kip Averitt's unexpired term -
especially Darren Yancy and David Sibley, a former Senator
with 11 years seniority and a career of representing power
companies, the BRA itself, trial lawyers and tobacco
companies, as a paid lobbyist. Up until last month, he was
living at Austin doing just that. Then, when his Keep Kip
movement was successful and the voters gave the ailing
lawmaker the nod over Darren Yancy in spite of his health
concerns, he filed for election to fill his unexpired term.

One final item. Bretta is tracking a new requirement of the
State Water Plan authored by the Legislature 10 years in the
past to keep up with future demand and up for Sunset Review
that all well owners must pay a steep user fee.

Why? To what purpose will the Texas Commission on
Environmental Quality put the funds? How will permits be
issued, by what criteria. In fact, there is a position open
for an inspector to supervise well drilling and permitting.
Who will step forward and apply for the job? She's watching.

They plan to hold a candidate forum for the four candidates
who are vying for the office of State Senate District 22.

They are Darren Yancy, an insurance and real estate broker
from Burleson who specializes in venture capital projects in
renewable energy sources; Brian Birdwell, a retired Army
Colonel who was burned in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon;
Gayle Avant, a Baylor Professor of Political Science; and
Mr. Sibley.

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