The future of Mountain City

By Kim Hilsenbeck

A proposed interlocal agreement between the city of Kyle, Hays County and Mountain City would broker a deal between the three entities, but it has some area residents up in arms.

Mountain City residents who attended their tiny town’s city council meeting Monday evening told the council in no uncertain terms they oppose any such interlocal agreement that would relinquish the portion of Mountain City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) where Clark Wilson plans to build the 2,200 home Anthem neighborhood. That property was formerly the Nance Ranch and a portion of the Meisenheimer Property, which are west of Mountain City. Mountain City signed a development agreement with Anthem in mid-December.

Wilson signed a contract with Electro Purification (EP) to provide water to the development. According to Kyle Mayor Todd Webster, Wilson came to the city about a year ago asking it to provide water to Anthem.

Why didn’t the city help Wilson at that time?

“We weren’t able to get contiguous to Anthem,” he said.

So Wilson went with EP and contracted for about three millions gallons a day, which would be pumped from the Cow Creek Formation of the Middle Trinity Aquifer.

EP drilled test wells in western Hays County near Driftwood and Wimberley on private property owned by the Bridges and the Odell families, both long-time ranchers in Hays County.

The city of Buda and the Goforth Special Utility District also signed contracts with EP. The maximum yearly pumpage amounts for the three entities would be close to two billion gallons of water, though EP officials say that amount wouldn’t come to bear for several more years.

How would EP get the water from western Hays County to the east?

A proposed pipeline would carry the pumped amount. But to make that pipeline a reality, EP is counting on Goforth’s power of eminent domain to produce the necessary easements from private property owners.

State Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) introduced legislation earlier this session to strip away Goforth’s eminent domain power outside its own boundaries. Another Isaac bill, HB 3504, passed in the House May 8, would expand the jurisdiction of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer to cover the portion of the Trinity Aquifer where EP has its test wells. That region was not previously under a groundwater conservation district and EP was therefore not required to apply for a permit.

The decision by the Texas Supreme Court in 1904 held that private property owners have what’s called the “right to capture” and can pump water out from under their land without limits, so long as the pumping does not cause material harm to neighboring wells.

And that’s been another point of contention throughout this protracted water fight. Tensions have run high in the county in recent months, with the pro-EP and anti-EP camps each firmly rooted.

Results from dueling hydrogeologists in recent months only highlight the differences and caused more friction, as each side produced scientific reports with opposite conclusions.

A recent lightning rod is that proposed interlocal agreement with Kyle, Hays County and Mountain City that would place some of Mountain City’s ETJ under Kyle’s purview.

Under that plan, the portion of Mountain City’s ETJ where Anthem will build homes would be relinquished. That would allow Anthem to get water from Kyle rather than EP. Kyle would eventually annex Anthem into the city.

In exchange for giving up a portion of its ETJ to Kyle, the agreement outlines how Mountain City would have the ability to connect with Kyle’s water and waste water pipes. In addition, the county agreed to pave and fix Mountain City’s roads — an often costly expense that normally falls to the independent, incorporate city. Mountain City has no commercial property within its city limits and finances city business though ad valorem taxes.

Locals question the involvement of the county in this issue. Mountain City Mayor Tiffany Curnutt told packed room at Monday’s council meeting that she and the council didn’t find out about the proposed agreement from Hays County and the city of Kyle.

Why did Kyle develop such an agreement?

Webster said his city was asked to provide something formal and in writing to Mountain City.

“We were told Mountain City couldn’t make a decision [on an agreement]without a formal agreement from us,” Webster said in a recent phone interview.

At Kyle’s May 5 meeting, the council voted to approve an interlocal agreement with Mountain City and Hays County.

Curnutt said the goal of the proposed agreement is, “To have the Nance Property and Meisenheimer property … taken into the Kyle ETJ and potentially Kyle would annex it.”

She told residents she attended one informal meeting with Mountain City’s administrator Thomas Brown, Clark Wilson, the city of Kyle and a few Hays County Commissioners to discuss a possible agreement, but that she hadn’t seen the formal document in advance of the public.

Following Monday’s executive council session in Mountain City, Curnutt told residents the first time the council saw the formal agreement was when it was posted for the Hays County Commissioners agenda.

“They did not give us the courtesy,” she said.

Curnutt also said, “It does not accurately reflect everything we talked about. We still have unanswered questions on the development agreement.”

She added there is some notation where Mountain City would be responsible for providing equipment and materials, but she said Clark Wilson indicated he would pay for that.

But despite many of her constituents firmly opposed to any ETJ deal, the mayor said the city has to think about the future.

“We need to look further along,” Curnutt said. “We’re trying to look long-term.” 

When asked his thoughts on why Mountain City would enter into an agreement with the city of Kyle and give up a portion of its ETJ, Webster said, “Kyle has got water we could supply to entities seeking this questionable water source from EP.”

He added that Kyle is offering water and sewer hook-ups to Mountain City, which may be valuable to them down the road.

“The Plum Creek area of 2770 — that area would develop quickly,” he said.

The inference is that commercial development wouldn’t be attracted to the area without adequate water capacity.Brown said as much Monday night during an interview at city hall.

“In talking with our water provider, he’s not confident Mountain City would have the capacity to provide water for any commercial development,” Brown said. “That commercial development will be a source of income.”

He added, “One of the things I’ve learned, is there is a lot of confusion [about the interlocal agreement]. And the documents [the public]have access to create more confusion.”

And no doubt the issue and resulting confusion created animosity, as many Mountain City residents were clearly upset when they spoke both to council in the public comment portion of the meeting and in responding to questions from the Hays Free Press.

Is that animosity warranted?

“There is a strong sense of community in Mountain City,” Brown said. “But you can’t keep your eyes to the ground, you have to look to the future. You have to expand and grow.”

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