If there is one thing we seem to have perhaps a bit too much of in Texas, it would be water boards. We have the Lower Colorado River Authority, The Trinity River Authority, The Lower Neches Valley River Authority, etc. One water board that has been under fire, particularly from yours truly, has been the Brazos River Authority (BRA). Whether you wish to classify it as incompetence, corruption, or both – the BRA has been at the heart of a political firefall for over a year now and deserving of every bit of criticism cast upon its shadowy ops.
When I started campaigning for the Texas Senate last year, I made it a point to know issues in each county. Hood County was in particular dire straits over a lack of water flowing through Lake Granbury. The Brazos River Basin, to which Lake Granbury belongs, has its main reservoir starting at Possum Kingdom Lake. The Morris Shepherd Dam on Possum Kingdom Lake, constructed in 1938, used the hydroelectric plant constructed on it to regulate water from Possum Kingdom Lake down the Brazos River Valley. From 1940 to 2007, the hydro units regularly sent 190,000 plus acre feet of water annually down the valley. Lake Granbury is estimated to have 131000 acre feet of water in its boundaries. Thus, a “constant” level lake was given life. This concept was used to market Lake Granbury for over 40 years and the status of recreational use of the lake was a staple on the BRA website. Well, it was until I and others started raising a stink over happenings in 2007.
In August of 2007, the BRA closed the hydro units at Possum Kingdom Lake and the constant flow of water. No announcements were made, nothing on the website, and no reasons given to a curious community. In 2007, we had a very wet year in Texas and the impact of the decision was not felt. In 2008, enough water was in all lakes that no one noticed an impact. However, in 2009 during our typical hotter-n-hell summers without rain, things began to change. For residents in Granbury, Hood County, they saw big changes in water levels and began to ask questions. Those questions hit the brick wall of the BRA where no answers were given and instead arrogance reigned supreme.
In the fall of 2009, I wanted to know why water was down at Lake Granbury and I followed the trail to Possum Kingdom Lake. Then I began to ask the BRA why the units were closed in a myriad of fashions. I wanted to know if they would re-open or be replaced, etc. I wanted to see the facility. Matt Phillips, the person the BRA assigned to me, was not fond of my inquires and gave answers my 8-year-old knew were garbage. One day Matt wrote that the information I sought was information that could not be shared due to a lawsuit between the BRA and the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc (BEPC). Ok, now we’re talking. Where there is a suit, there are public documents. I tracked the lawsuit Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc vs The Brazos River Authority Cause 2009-2364-5. This was also the time my senate campaign went topsy-turvy and Kip Averitt pulled his “too sick to campaign” nonsense. Yes, Averitt and the BRA have ties and that is for another story for another day.
In the lawsuit Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc vs The Brazos River Authority Cause 2009-2364-5, BEPC alleged BRA shut the facility down for repairs while negotiations were underway between the two for BEPC to buy the electric operations on the dam. According to the suit, BRA told BEPC the repairs would be done and then powered turned back on. Three months later when the deal was concluded, BRA tossed BEPC the keys and effectively said “See Ya” – according to the suit. Two years pass and BEPC files suit in McLennan County in July of 2009. This was a very hush-hush suit, with documents in the suit stating both parties wanted limited publicity on the issue. Problem is once it goes to suit, it is public record if you know where to look. The court documents allege all kinds of issues surrounding condition of the hydro units on the dam, maintenance, etc. When I read the cause, my first question was why a facility would be in the described dilapidated condition the court documents alleged? Lots of bond money, over 40 million from 1991 to 2005 had been issued to keep the dam operational. If this dam had money issued in 2005, why was it in need of repair again? So, I started asked questions and raised the eyebrows of the district and the homeowners on Lake Granbury. Once the lawsuit was introduced into the public eye from my campaign, allegations flew all over the place.
I did open records requests on documentation and specific questions. I was quashed on certain requests and provided info on others. What changed the game was the discovery of the bond records found by The Legendary Jim Parks in late February of this year. The bond issuances showed a whole lot of money being allocated to the dam, so why maintenance issues? Over 22 million had been issued in bonds in 2005, yet court documents alleged serious deterioration of the dam facility. Had they been gambling with the dough, using it for other projects, or was someone living the Life of Riley on the State of Texas’s dime? Hood County and District 22 residents wanted to know. I published this on my campaign site with documents on 2-26-10 and raised another big stink, one in which BRA President Chris DeCluitt responded with what could only be called the most poorly researched admission of guilt letter ever penned. In his response, DeCluitt wrote that 3.8 million of the 2005 issuance funds had not been used to date, blaming the issue with BEPC. Keep in mind that nearly 4 years have passed since the 2005 bond issue. TAX dollars are paying interest on this issue right now.Two points of note – 1. To not use bond funds for their intended use is a violation of SEC law; and 2. The BEPC issue was a non-factor in the BRA’s responsibility to spend the money and maintain the facility. Withholding funds for “legal issues” were not a condition in the bond issuance. It could well be alleged that DeCluitt and the entire BRA Board that made the decision to not spend the bond money are in hot water with the SEC. Maybe that is why they called me in March and asked for my records….
I went with friends to the BRA and reviewed records. Lots of records. There was a distinct money trail. Then I got my hands on the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission (FERC) report for a new license for the BEPC/BRA proposed transaction. Understand, if FERC inspects and passes a facility, its is good to go. The inspection approval we got our hands on showed a January 2008 inspection and that the facility was good to go. So – we have a lawsuit alleging maintenance issues, lots of bond money, a slew of receipts, and now a federal inspection showing good to go. This was not all adding up and the possibility of an economic life-giving hydroelectric dam being operational shut down for other reasons was beginning to sound plausible. All this gave fuel to Lake Granbury residents who demanded answers from the BRA. In March, the Lake Granbury Waterfront Association hosted the BRA and put them on the hot seat. Two things cam out of that meeting – 1. The BRA was following its state charter as a water supplier. This meant selling water from any reservoir regardless of negative economic impact to another area; 2. Pictures of the Morris Shepherd Dam hydro facility was shown that night and the pictures looked pristine. I mean they looked brand new. So just what in the hell was going on with the hydro-electric units? No answers were given and the economic fate of a county is left hanging in the balance.
Now, the BRA had just told Hood County residents prior to July 2009 nothing regarding the closure of the hydro facility. After the suit was known, then the pattern answer was that they could not respond due to the lawsuit. This despite the BRA website having a section from its October 2009 Board meeting discussing de-commissioning the hydro facility. When BEPC filed the suit in July 2009, BRA responded that it could not be sued as it was a governmental agency. This is known as a Plea to the Jurisdiction and it is asking the court to dismiss on this theory. Government agencies can and have been sued and BEPC gave evidence to the fact in its response in September 2009. In this instance, the 414 District Court agreed with BEPC that the case should go forward. BRA filed an appeal to the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco. The case was ruled on June 25, 2010 and the 10th Court of Appeals reversed the 414th District Court decision. BRA is off the hook in this lawsuit and the citizens dodged a legal bill. Was the right decision rendered? Hard to say – no one can get near the Morris Shepherd Dam to see what condition the hydro units are really in.
What this does is clear the excuses the BRA has laid at the feet of Hood County residents for quite some time now and force them to address the issue of the hydro units. There is no more lawsuit to hide behind and we want to know where that 3.8 million dollars are that BRA President Chris DeCluitt admitted to not having been spent. It will be curious to see if the hydro units begin flowing water and producing power again or if the Brazos River Valley stays on the short end of the water flow for other reasons. Reasons like a particular power company by the name of Luminant and upcoming expansion at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant.
But that is a blog for another day…….