Board votes in split decision to appeal Judge Campbell’s decision favoring landowners

The Aquifer Protectors! From L to R, Eric Allmon (attorney for Environmental Stewardship), Michele Gangnes (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Andy Meyer (Paige landowner), Darwyn Hanna (Bastrop landowner), Ernie Bogart (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Betz Brown (Lee County landowner), Don Grissom (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Steve Box (Executive Director Environmental Stewardship)

The Aquifer Protectors! From L to R, Eric Allmon (attorney for Environmental Stewardship), Michele Gangnes (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Andy Meyer (Paige landowner), Darwyn Hanna (Bastrop landowner), Ernie Bogart (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Betz Brown (Lee County landowner), Don Grissom (pro bono attorney for landowners Meyer, Hanna and Brown), Steve Box (Executive Director Environmental Stewardship)

In an ironic twist, having denied Landowners a seat at the table in the original 2014 contested case hearing involving End Op’s application for a massive groundwater permit, the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District’s Board of Directors essentially did it again Thursday night. The Board voted 4 to 2 to appeal Judge Campbell’s decision favoring the Landowners. This time, saying they are appealing because they want to be sure they have … A SEAT AT THE TABLE.  

The fact of the matter is, by appealing the Judge’s decision, they are opposing and not accepting the judge’s ruling that the District erred in denying landowners a voice, no matter what they say is their reason for appealing.  Only time will tell whether the District has actually softened its position on landowners rights to protest permits.  Up until now, the District’s lawyers have aggressively taken the same position as End OP, that the landowners do not deserve standing to protest the permit.  

After nearly an hour of closed discussion in executive session the Board returned to public session where they openly asked questions of their lawyers and engaged in a discussion with the members of the public who were present.  They then retired to a second executive session before taking any action, apparently in reaction to the public’s comments … all firsts in our 10+ years of experience with this Board. 

We are assessing the implications of those discussions and will be back to you on this in the near future. 

Recognizing that End Op had already appealed the Judge’s ruling, which at least meant the Landowner-End Op dispute would continue, the vote seemed to hinge on whether or not to: 

  • vote in favor of signaling to the community — and Judge Campbell — that the Board was not appealing and accepting his ruling, or 
  • vote in favor of appealing the decision in order to have a seat at the table to preserve the right to participate in the appeal “to represent the public interest”, as the District’s lawyers described it.  

There appeared to be interest on the part of some members of the Board to join the appeal in hopes of somehow bringing the parties together in mediation of the dispute, because End Op has reportedly expressed an interest in mediation to the District.

Director Clifton Seidel motioned to NOT APPEAL and Director Herb Cook seconded the motion, which failed in a 4 to 2 vote.   We greatly appreciate Directors Seidel and Cook for standing up and stepping toward the Landowners.  Thank you.  

Director Simmang then motioned to APPEAL and Director Carl Steinbach seconded the motion, which passed on a 4 to 2 vote.   Director Talbot, as presiding officer, did not vote.  Bastrop County Director David Fleming, an Aqua Water Supply Corporation employee, recused himself because of Aqua’s involvement in the original contested case. Lee County Directors Billy Sherrill and Larry Schatte were absent without public explanation. 

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