Proposed water district leaves Buda under-represented

Tempers flared at times Tuesday over a proposed house bill that could create a watershed district for Onion Creek.

With concerns that include a lack of representation for Buda in the proposed district, Buda city leaders asked staff to draft a resolution outlining necessary changes to House Bill 2851 to better suit the city at a future meeting.

HB 2851, introduced by State Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin), would create an Onion Creek Watershed district. The proposed new district would have a board of directors who would have the power to levy taxes and fees on residents who live within its boundaries.

According to Workman’s bill, Travis County would have the most representation on that board due to its large population.

Several residents spoke during public comment against the bill.

Mark Gerrosis said one of the main issues with the proposed bill is that there isn’t equal representation on the board of directors for the entities involved. Gerrosis claimed Buda and Hays County would be more directly affected by flooding mitigation solutions in the bill than Travis County.

Buda resident and landowner Carl Urban, who opposed HB 2851, encouraged council members to get involved before the legislation is passed and it’s too late.

One speaker pleaded with council members not to let Travis County ruin the “natural resource that flows through Buda” with possible flood mitigation tools such as floodwalls.

Micah Grau, Buda assistant city manager, said an Onion Creek Watershed study was performed by Travis County in order to assess possible solutions to mitigate flooding in Travis and Hays counties.

The study cited three possible sites where retention ponds could be constructed in order to help mitigate flooding.

One possible site is the CenTex West Retention pond, which is in the Kyle ETJ path. The CenTex East is in Buda’s ETJ, and the Buda/I-35 retention pond would be located along Onion Creek.

Grau said each of these sites produces its own challenges for the environment and the economy and has an estimated cost of $84 million.

Grau said Hays County, Buda and Austin were unaware of the proposed legislation until December 2016.

Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones said the main issue with HB 2851 is that it lacks equal representation on a potential board of directors, which has the ability to levy taxes and fees on residents for flood mitigation.

Caterina Gonzales, Buda city attorney, said the bill was still “very early in the process.” She said HB 2851 had not even reached a committee or had funding identified yet.

But the meeting soon turned chaotic. Buda resident T.J. Higginbothom had to be gaveled down after making comments from the audience during discussion on the item.

Buda Mayor Todd Ruge argued with council member George Haehn after the latter accused city staff making potential deals with other entities when they first learned of HB 2851.

John Nett, Buda City Engineer, said three staff members who attended a December 2016 wastewater meeting were unaware of the seriousness of the topics.

While Ruge agreed with Haehn that he couldn’t support the bill, he didn’t believe staff members performed any misdeeds.

“I agree with you that I oppose the passage of this bill, but to accuse city staff of making deals with anyone is just foolish,” Ruge said.

Council member Wiley Hopkins suggested Buda craft a resolution after coordinating with all entities involved that stipulates what changes are needed to represent Hays County, Buda and Austin.

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