By Kim Hilsenbeck
Much of the fighting among major stakeholders in the Electro Purification (EP) well project and its opponents has been in public meetings, at testimony hearings and in the media.
But on Monday, key players in the ongoing saga sat down at the state capital to try to come to agreement about moving forward.
Those stakeholders were already in the capital to testify on legislation introduced by Texas Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) that would expand the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) to cover the area where EP currently has seven test wells drilled into the Cow Creek Formation of the Middle Trinity Aquifer.
That expansion would require EP to go through the groundwater permitting process.
According to BSEACD General Manager John Dupnik, the meeting was coordinated by the office of Texas Representative Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs). The goal was to begin negotiations about the permitting process if Campbell’s bill passes.
In the meeting were Dupnik along with representatives and attorneys from EP, Goforth Special Utility District, the City of Buda and Bill Johnson, owner of Halifax Ranch. Hays County Commissioner Will Conley entered the meeting later.
Dupnik said in his estimation, the meeting went well.
“We [the stakeholders]were all trying to understand each other’s positions,” he said. “It was an honest conversation.”
However, he added that the meeting came a little later than he would have liked.
“It should have taken place in January,” he said.
EP spokesperson John Hatch said he felt Monday’s stakeholder meeting had value.
“We didn’t agree on all the issues, but we agreed to keep talking,” he said. “It was a good first start.”
Dupnik said EP is negotiating for some concessions, but because of the ongoing discussions, he was hesitant to provide exact detail about what kinds of concessions the private water firm might want. He said an example of a concession could be an expedited permitting approval process.
Hatch said EP is not afraid of being regulated; the main issue to the firm is the timetable under which the process takes place.
When asked if EP would submit to voluntary permitting requirements if Campbell’s bill doesn’t pass, Hatch said he would have to see what that might look like before EP could answer.
He also couldn’t speak to the issue of the GBRA having customers with “extra” water to sell to Buda to meet its demand by 2017 of one million gallons a day.
“Is that water 100 percent guaranteed?” Hatch asked rhetorically.
Until he knows more about it, Hatch said it would be difficult to speculate.
Could Buda potentially dissolve its contract with EP to instead purchase water from GBRA?
“Buda has a valid contract on the table with EP,” he said.
Hatch said he hopes there will be more talks among the key stakeholders to help move forward the EP well project and potential groundwater district expansion.
Dupnik said BSEACD would not take any action until its board of directors is updated on the situation at this Thursday’s meeting. The board could then give BSEACD staff direction on how to proceed with the negotiations.