Council approves water planning committee and proposed members

Jessica Goode | Contributing Writer

Although a few concerns were voiced during Tuesday night’s meeting, City Council members approved the formation of the Boerne Community Water Planning Committee.

In an email, Toni Lott wrote that she felt the meeting was “carefully crafted to be presented on Spring Break when most of the local residents are distracted or on vacation.”

She called the procedure deceptive and claimed committee members had a variety of conflicts of interest.

“As a slap in the face to our group, two of the ‘nominees’ to this unknown ‘water planning committee’ (AKA paid proxies) are Vulcan’s engineers (Mathews and Campbell) Who are also big members of the concrete industry lobby group (TACA) disguised as water ‘conservation’ board representatives,” Lott wrote. “Then add to that the fact the committee is full of other conflicts (aka developers), utility companies and others who financially benefit from rapid, dense growth…It’s clear the only real purpose for this ‘committee’ is to find any way humanly possible to give hungry developers and those related ‘economic interest’ what they want while ignoring any conservation measures.” 

Saying she was representing other people who could not make the meeting, Lindsay Chapman echoed Lott’s concerns.

“[There are] some individuals that we prefer not have a seat on this water board,” Chapman said, adding those with financial conflicts of interest should not be members of the steering committee. “Everybody should be allowed to have an opinion…when there is a clear conflict of interest I think it’s best that the city avoid having them serve.”

Ben Eldredge, a director on the board of the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District (CCGCD) and committee member nominee, acknowledged that emails were circulating and the issue had become controversial.

“Mayor Handren pitched this idea to us, and it instantly had appeal. The reason is because we agree with the assessment that maybe our water planning hasn’t been as comprehensive as it should be. We need to be conservative with our water resources. We’re very concerned about conservation. That said, we support this committee,” Eldredge said. “I’ve been asked to serve, and also Curt Campbell. Curt has run into some criticism because the firm he works with, Westward Environmental, was associated with the Vulcan permits. I have to say I have faith in Curt. I think he’s very well intended. I think trying to conflate who he is and what he brings to the table, both as a hydrologist and a concerned citizen, with his professional role as a consultant of Vulcan, misses the point that he has a lot to contribute to this committee.”

Bob Imler also asked council to deny the resolution.

“We have in place a very comprehensive plan which is still in place,” Imler said. “I don’t see the need for a study committee at this point.”

Calling attention to the water crisis in California years ago, Imler said the state is still dealing with the repercussions of decisions “brought about by subterfuge and dishonest public officials.”

Refuting accusations that his concerns are recent and Tuesday’s meeting was deceptively planned, Mayor Tim Handren said he referenced the topic of water availability last year. He said he has written extensive articles and visited with other board leaders, including CCGCD Board President Milan Michalec, for a year before announcing his intent to form a water study committee in January.

“I said I’d be back in March,” Handren said. “I promise you I did not plan this for spring break.”

Handren defended the people who he said volunteered to participate in the committee.

“I asked Patrick Cohoon [to chair the committee because] he is a wicked smart person. He knows how to keep his emotions at bay and he’s ethically above reproach,” Handren said. “Milan [Michalec] is a water expert. He knows more about water than pretty much anyone in this room.”

Handren said Campbell and Eldredge were chosen by the CCGCD board, “because they figured they would best serve the committee…It’s a topic that causes a lot of emotion, because it’s important. It’s water,” Handren said, adding the study currently on the books claims Boerne does not have a water problem. “It didn’t contemplate the growth and how we consume our water. I hear people say we’re fine, but I take exception to an insular view.”

Handren said each governing entity he approached “made their best recommendations based on their credentials.”

“This is not to fuel growth. I’ve read that accusation,” Handren said. “It’s about an outreach program… If one had read the suggested tasks, rather than just criticize them… four of the tasks are administrative, nine of the items listed are 100 percent conservation related, one of the items is about consumption sources.” Handren said. “The majority of this is about conservation.”

Council Member Brian Fowler said he, too, fielded many emails. Clarifying this is a steering committee, as opposed to a governing body, Fowler said members have no authority to dictate policy. Further, he pondered whether the committee had a recusal rule, in the event that a member might have a potential financial or personal gain.

“Some of the things we’re considering may be about a person you don’t care for. When we start looking at personal character – I think there’s enough safety net built into the structure of the organization that personally I’m not worried about someone having a personal financial interest and it completely overtaking where we go with water ideas,” Fowler said. “I have the same concerns, but I don’t have the fear.”

Council Member Joseph Macaluso motioned to approve and appoint members as designated, and added the caveat that three individuals from citizens’ groups be granted a seat on the committee. The motion carried unanimously.

The designated members are as follows: Chair of the Committee: Patrick Cohoon; City of Boerne Utilities: Jeff Thompson; City of Boerne: Tom Kartrude; Kendall County: Rick Tobolka; GBRA: Tommy Mathews; Kendall West Utilities – John-Mark Matkin; Texas Water Development Board: Sam Hermitte (Ben Eldredge is coordinating); Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District: Ben Eldredge and Curt Campbell; State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Office: Larry Bailey; SAWS: Donovan Burton; Edward Aquifer Authority: Marc Friberg – Executive Director – External and Regulatory Affairs; San Antonio River Authority (SARA): (Ben Eldredge is coordinating); Kendall West Utilities: (They are part of the problem/solution set); WCID #1 – Comfort – Keith Marquardt – General Manager.

In other business, council members commemorated their last meeting at the Municipal Court Complex. Their next regular meeting on March 24 will be held in the new city council chambers.

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