McCulloch SWCD to meet with state

A recent court hearing, in which the five-member board of directors for the McCulloch County Soil and Water Conservation Water District participated, has the group preparing for the next step in the legal process. The board has sought an injunction to help them gain access to the site of a water conservation structure on the BSAK ranch owned by Dennis Johnson. The access was being requested for maintenance and inspection. ‘After the hearing, District Judge E. Karl Prohl opted not to grant the injunction but instead suggested the case be brought up in a trial by jury. The SWCD board members began asking questions about the 50 plus-year-old structures. There is a question about personal liability should a flood control structure fail. As it stands, the members of the board could be held personally liable. In response to this realization, the members of the district could be faced with the decision to disband the district. In such a scenario, the question is posed as to who would be responsible for the maintenance of all of the conservation dams located throughout the county. Historically, the board members have been volunteers and there is no taxing entity from which they draw funds. There seem to be no guidelines on how to abandon the structures. Originally built by the federal government, the McCulloch County sites were a test program which was the first of its kind. There has never been a dissolution of a conservation district, and according to a spokesman for Cong. Mike Conaway, the eyes of Congress will be focused on how the issue is settled. There are other districts nationwide with similar problems. What originally were the first test sites in the nation, could conceivably be the first test cases in the courts too. One other question is, if the SWCD is disbanded and the sites (dams) are abandoned, should the responsibility and liability then fall to the landowner. One board member, who did not wished to be identified, said that the message he got from the presiding judge that held the hearing in Mason, was that the board should resign because personal liability might be involved. Another judge told him that extreme caution should be used in considering resigning because under the law they might still be considered legally responsible. The local board is on the agenda of the state Soil and Water Conservation Board when they meet in Austin next week. In the meantime the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) who has oversight of maintenance of the dams, has scheduled a visit to the ranch where the problem originated. They have scheduled the meeting reportedly because the landowner refused the conservation district access to the structure on his property.

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