Sandow Lakes Hearing Goes to SOAH
Many thanks for permission to reprint this article from the Burleson County Tribune. LIV encourages our readers to subscribe to your local news providers, including the Burleson Tribune!
By Roy Sanders, Burleson County Tribune, January 25, 2023 LIV Stock Photo: 2015 Water Meeting, Caldwell Civic Center, Burleson County
A formal, full public hearing concerning two additional water drilling and operating permits for Sandow Lakes Ranch Property in Milam County will be conducted by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) in Austin.
The Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District (POSGCD) board was scheduled to hold the hearing on Thursday, Jan, 19, at the district office in Milano, but an attorney for Sandow Lakes objected, saying the district should only hear public comments and not conduct a full public hearing at that time-- addressing affected party status requests for landowners and witness testimony and cross examinations.
Attorney Molly Cagle of Baker Botts LLP law firm of Austin made the objections, and the POSGCD board voted 5-4 to grant her request to submit the hearings to the SOAH.
Voting for her request were board members Bob Wilson of Milam County, Tommy Tietjen of Burleson County, Steven Wise of Milam County, board president Ward Roddam of Milam County and Jay Wilder of Burleson County.
Voting no were Buster Evers of Burleson County, Jon Redington of Milam County, Becky Goetsch of Burleson County and Kit Worley of Milam County.
Cagle objected to POSGCD’s Friday, Jan. 13, posting of the hearing agenda, which outlined details for a full public hearing, rather than just public comments. Cagle said prior notifications by POSGCD in local newspapers and on the Burleson and Milam County Courthouse bulletin boards stated that there would only be public comments.
The Jan. 13 posting did not give her sufficient time, at least 14 days as required by Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code, to adequately prepare for the full hearing, Cable argued.
Cagle said she was also planning to prepare discovery material for the hearing.
POSGCD attorney Barbara Boulware responded that the district had posted the meeting appropriately on Jan. 13, in compliance with the district’s rules and according to law.
Boulware also added that the district has proceeding with public hearings in this manner before on other topics.
Evers also addressed Cagle’s objections, later voting against her request.
“We are here to follow the rules for all of the people of Burleson and Milam counties to make sure we are doing what we feel is the best decision for the people of Burleson and Milam counties, period,” Evers said.
SLR Property I LP, of Dallas is an investor group that purchased the old Alcoa property in November of 2021 and already has two drilling and operating permits. They are now seeking two more permits.
The requested new permits are for drilling and operating only and not for transport, and they may be used for municipal, industrial, manufacturing and commercial purposes anywhere in Burleson and Milam counties.
SLR officials have not yet publicly specified what the water will be used for or how it will be marketed.
In a July letter to the POSGCD board, company officials said they intended
“to continue to develop the groundwater resources of Sandow Lakes Ranch and enter into long-term leases and water supply contracts with new tenants on the property, as well as long-term water supply contracts with suppliers and others in the area.”
Although the formal hearing will now be scheduled before SOAH, Roddam allowed public comments on Sandow Lakes’ request.
A large crowd attended the Thursday hearing, and the board heard from multiple residents, many of whom argued against Sandow Lake’s request. Several citizens said the district was already permitting beyond the Managed Available Groundwater (MAG) standards, and allowing these permits would only add to the problem of over pumping of area aquifers.
Andy Wier of Simsboro Aquifer Water Defense Fund (SAWDF) said both of the permit requests would exceed the Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) that POSGCD set for the Simsboro formation.
They would also meet the district’s standards for unreasonable impacts, Wier said. If drawdown exceeds 100 feet and is more than 40 percent of all of the available pressure head, it is considered unreasonable, he said. And the data shown indicates that would happen, Wier said.
Using the current Groundwater Availability Model (GAM) computer model, their plan would exceed the aquifer’s saturated thickness standard, also an unreasonable impact, he said.
However, Wier also said the GAM for that area needs updating to provide a more accurate model. That process is needed before any permits are considered, Wier said.
Stanley J. Mitchell said the district should stand up for Burleson and Milam county residents and
“say no to over permitting and over pumping.”
Colby Coerver said “Milam County does not exist to be a water colony for Texas.” Kulver added that excessive pumping will cause wells to go dry.
Dr. Curtis Chubb of Milam County addressed coal ash on the property which he said has toxic contaminants with arsenic levels. The groundwater district is responsible for protecting the water quality in the aquifer, he said.
Another resident addressed subsidence issues that can occur when there is over pumping of an aquifer.
“I believe Sandow Lakes application should be denied until a subsidence study is conducted,” he said.
Also addressing the board was Alan Gardenhire, vice president of operations for Sandow Lakes, who said the permits would allow them to facilitate long-term development on the property leading to important economic development for Burleson and Milam counties.
Gardenhire stressed that Sandow Lakes was not seeking a transport permit to ship water out of the district to benefit other locales. Their request was for drilling and operating only, with the intent to keep the water in Burleson and Milam counties for future economic development.
Although Sandow Lakes has not announced a specific, singular business objective for the property, he said after the meeting, he told the gathering that they are working on a 30-year development plan compatible for commercial, industrial, manufacturing or residential uses.
“These permits are critical as we move forward” with economic development opportunities, he told the gathering."
LIV Note: We believe this is the first time Post Oak Savannah GCD has approved sending a permit decision for review by SOAH, State Office of Administrative Hearings. SOAH will render a decision but it is advisory. Groundwater Districts are free to make their own decisions.