Sugar Land City Council Member Russell C. Jones, who is the Fort Bend County advisory representative on the Gulf Coast Water Authority Board of Directors, has written to Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark regarding a recording of Tuesday's workshop meeting of Galveston County Commissioners Court. The letter is posted here with permission.
I had the opportunity yesterday to listen to a recording of the workshop session which you recently held with representatives of the Gulf Coast Water Authority.
Mr. Trahan's rendition of the relationship between the Gulf Coast Water Authority and the representatives of Brazoria and Fort Bend counties, including the City of Sugar Land, accurately reflects the relationship of the authority to the municipal customers whom I represent on behalf of Fort Bend County.
When I became the non-voting representative of Fort Bend County to the GCWA board last year, the first thing which I did was to approach the general manager and suggest that we get together for the purpose of resolving outstanding issues. In response, general manager Robert Istre made it clear that he had no intentions of negotiating reasonable resolutions. His response was strictly negative.
Mr. Istre's reaction was exactly as had been foretold by those members of the staff of the City of Sugar Land who had been attending meetings of the Board of Directors of the GCWA for the past several years. Specifically, the reaction was, "No." There was no conciliatory suggestion such as, "Let us see if we can resolve these problems that we have."
I requested a meeting between representatives of the GCWA staff and the staff of the City of Sugar Land. His response was that he would only meet with members of the City Council, and that he refused deal with our staff.
Subsequently, on several occasions, I again requested such a meeting in order to resolve outstanding issues. A meeting finally occurred only in February 2011 after I had made an issue of his refusal to meet during a meeting of the GCWA Board.
Representing Sugar Land at the meeting, in addition to myself, were the mayor, city manager and several staff members. President Williams, Director Latimer, and Director Trahan attended with Mr. Istre. After a reasonable airing of the various issues, Mr. Latimer assured the Sugar Land representatives that action would be taken. Nevertheless, no further response has been received since that time.
As you are undoubtedly aware, particularly after attending the hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee in Austin, representation for the counties of Brazoria and Fort Bend on the Board of the GCWA had been promised as early as 1996. Notwithstanding compliance with their obligations by Brazoria and Fort Bend, the GCWA reneged on its agreement, and thereafter actually opposed such representation.
Mr. Latimer's implication at the hearing that a letter from the general manager to the Fort Bend County judge in 1996 assuring future representation on the board was somehow unauthorized was a deliberate false representation. Mr. Trahan made that clear to you during your workshop earlier this week.
I understood that the GCWA Board had gone soft on its commitment to provide water to Brazoria and Fort Bend, but the statements of Mr. Istre at the hearing in Austin that GCWA perceives its obligations to be nothing more than its own option to provide water, or to refund the deposits previously made, were shocking to those of us who have been counting on the commitments of the GCWA in planning future water supplies for our residents.
Yes, the City of Sugar Land has filed suit for a declaratory judgment to determine the validity of the GCWA's lease on a portion of Oyster Creek which runs through the city. Yes, the city has made an application to the TCEQ to allow it to withdraw water from various locations in Oyster Creek. Yes, the AMIL Gates leak. These are all issues which need to be discussed. They are not issues on which the GCWA may simply say "No."
Yes, the GCWA has an obligation to deliver 20,000,000 gallons of water per day to the City of Sugar Land and substantial additional amounts of water to other Brazoria and Fort Bend entities. Yes, Sugar Land and the other entities have assumed that the GCWA will abide by its agreement to provide that water so that they will be able to comply with their own regulatory requirements. These are issues which need to be discussed and resolved. The GCWA's traditional response of "No" is not acceptable.
Mr. Istre's resignation is a step in the right direction. However, it is not sufficient in and of itself.
In the short time which I have been representing Fort Bend County, I have been appalled by the poor planning of the district for the rehabilitation and replacement of its equipment. The break of a 48 inch line into Galveston is only the most recent example of poor management and planning. The entire infrastructure of the district is ancient and probably needs to be replaced. At a minimum, a plan needs to be implemented for the retirement and replacement of the most worn out portions of the infrastructure.
The Gulf Coast Water Authority is no longer merely a local, single county provider of water. Years ago, the State Legislature expanded its duties to provide water to Brazoria and Fort Bend County. The parochial attitude of the majority of the members of the Board that they only need to worry about Galveston County is simply inconsistent with the mandate of the legislation which created and modified the District's purpose.
The opposition to the legislation which would allow representation on the board by Fort Bend and Brazoria counties is absurd. Besides the fact that the Board previously promised such representation in writing and that such representation was a part and parcel of the revision to the District's legislative mandate in the 1990s, such representation will only constitute 22% of the total decision-making ability of the Board. That small representation does not even compare to the fact that 40% of the District's total water capacity has been committed to Brazoria and Fort Bend.
With all due respect, Judge Henry's argument that Brazoria and Fort Bend are merely customers of the utility, and therefore are not deserving of representation on the board, is silly. The GCWA has been assigned the responsibility by the Legislature of the State of Texas to be a provider of water to all three counties. The GCWA is not a mere utility. It is a governmental unit responsible to the citizens of all three counties. The population of Brazoria and Fort Bend constitutes 75% of the population of the three counties together.
Despite the fears that Fort Bend and Brazoria are somehow intending to take water away from industry and municipalities in Galveston County, the reality is that representatives appointed by Fort Bend and Brazoria are just as likely to be concerned about the overall responsibility of the district as are appointees of Galveston County. No one is attempting to steal water from Galveston County. Any suggestion to the contrary made at the hearing in Austin two weeks ago by opponents to the legislation is ridiculous.
Prior to the introduction of the legislation which would add representation from Fort Bend and Brazoria counties to the Board of the GCWA, County Judge Hebert of Fort Bend and Mayor Thompson of Sugar Land met with the Judge Yarborough of Galveston County to discuss the proposal. Judge Yarborough indicated that he had no opposition. Yes, I suppose that they should have spoken to all of the members of the Galveston County commissioners court. Nevertheless, they thought that they were doing the right thing by approaching Judge Yarborough.
When Judge Henry won the election, Mayor Thompson and I, together with a Sugar Land assistant city manager, met with him to discuss the legislation. We also met with Commissioner O'Brien. Perhaps the gesture was insufficient, but the intent was to demonstrate the good faith of the City of Sugar Land and the representatives of Fort Bend County.
As you are aware, I also attempted to contact you by telephone on one occasion. Unfortunately, we never actually made contact. I now regret that I did not make a further effort to discuss these issues with you.
Now is the time to resolve the outstanding issues between the GCWA on the one hand and Fort Bend and Brazoria counties on the other. If the majority of the members of the board of the GCWA are unwilling to come to grips with their responsibility to all three counties, I suggest that you and I take the lead to bring the parties together to discuss the outstanding issues, and to find resolutions which are acceptable to everyone.
I am available to discuss these issues at any time. Please feel free to give me a call at your convenience.
Russell C. Jones
Councilman, District 3, City of Sugar Land, Texas
Fort Bend Advisory Director, Gulf Coast Water Authority