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Leaders gather behind closed doors to decry LCRA water-system sale

LEANDER — Several local leaders attended an “invitation only” meeting Wednesday to discuss the Lower Colorado River Authority’s recent decision to sell 32 water and wastewater systems.

Though many of the leaders in attendance have complained that LCRA has not been as open as it should be about the sale, Wednesday’s meeting by critics of LCRA was itself closed to the public.

Officials said the potential existed for discussion of proprietary contract details that are not subject to public disclosure. The meeting also was closed to LCRA officials.

A Burnet County delegation said they attended to see if other area leaders shared their worries about the sale.
“One of the main concerns was the time frame for the sale of the systems,” Marble Falls Mayor George Russell said.

Leander Urban Design Officer Pix Howell — a former LCRA board member — hosted the “LCRA Utility Sale Affected Parties Meeting” at Pat Bryson Municipal Hall. “It was a session for entities to talk about the ramifications related to the sale of small (utility) systems LCRA owns,” Russell said.

The LCRA board voted Nov. 17 to sell off the system, a move many area leaders said took them by surprise.

River authority officials say they have spent about $300 million during the last 10-15 years to upgrade and maintain the facilities. They argue the utilities have required millions of dollars in investments while costing more to operate than they provide in revenue.

LCRA does not want to go into deficit spending, and if the authority keeps the system, they will have to raise rates, a spokesman said. Nor has anyone been kept in the dark, LCRA officials said; they say it is a matter of public record that LCRA has been working to divest individual parts of the system since 2008.

Meanwhile, other Burnet County officials attending the Wednesday meeting included Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, County Commissioner Bill Neve, County Engineer Consultant Susan Roth and Burnet resident Jo Karr Tedder, who is an LCRA water-management plan committee member.

Several officials from Leander, Bastrop, Westlake Hills and other areas served by LCRA-owned utility systems also appeared.

“Mostly, we just listened,” Russell said. “There was a lot of frustration and venting.”
The issue may be discussed during the LCRA regular board meeting 9 a.m. Jan. 19 in Austin at LCRA headquarters, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd.

Local officials are worried LCRA officials may open bids on the sale of the utilities during the meeting, Russell said.
“That is just not fair,” Russell added. “It doesn’t give LCRA customers enough time to evaluate and decide what they want to do.”

LCRA officials bypassed public input before deciding to sell the utilities, local officials claim.
As a result, many questions need to be answered, officials have said.

For instance, does LCRA plan to sell the utilities to one buyer?

How will the sales affect the cost of water services?

What affect might the sales have on water quality?

LCRA customers want to know more, Klaeger said.

“And, we don’t have any answers,” she added. “We will ask (LCRA) to stay in touch with their customers and keep them informed.”