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LCRA tells investors utility systems for sale

BURNET — The controversial sale of 32 water and wastewater systems by the Lower Colorado River Authority is open to private investors and any affected communities, officials said Friday.

That news came to light on the same day as a water issues meeting in Burnet County, just a couple of days after several communities and agencies claiming the authority is moving too fast on the sale showed up at an LCRA meeting in Austin.

“The process to identify buyers for LCRA’s water and wastewater systems and two of its raw water pumping systems has begun,” stated a release issued by LCRA Friday night. “Interested buyers should contact LCRA’s financial consultant, BMO Capital Markets, to engage in the process.”

Also, LCRA officials indicated the authority plans to request bids for purchase of the water and wastewater systems by the end of the month.

Bids may come from communities who are served by the systems, as well as other interested buyers.

“Any community is free to compete with other potential buyers,” LCRA chairman Tim Timmerman said earlier this week.

Several issues are tied to the sale of the systems, Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger said.

“There is a lot of concern,” Klaeger said. “We don’t know what is going to happen.”

Community leaders are anxious to know whether potential buyers plan to raise service rates for systems, as well as how they plan to maintain water quality, Klaeger said.

Klaeger spoke during the Burnet County Water Issues Workshop Friday. More than 40 elected officials and other attendees attended the meeting at the Herman Brown Free Library.

The LCRA board voted Nov. 17 to sell the systems.

Local leaders claim the move came without prior notification to system customers.

“We were very surprised,” Klaeger said.

Water or wastewater systems up for sale in or near Burnet County include Bonanza Beach, Hamilton Creek, Lake Buchanan, Lometa, Paradise Point, Quail Creek, Ridge Harbor, Sandy Harbor, Smithwick Mills, South Road, Spicewood Beach, Sunrise Beach, Tow Village and Whitewater Springs.

Hamilton Creek and South Road began negotiations to purchase their systems from LCRA before the authority announced the sale.

An informal coalition, including Burnet County, Bee Cave, Bastrop County, Elgin, Hays County, Leander, West Lake Hills and West Travis County Municipal Utility District No. 3 and 5 recently asked LCRA to grant communities first refusal rights during purchase negotiations.

LCRA officials rebuffed the request during the board meeting earlier this week.

“LCRA believes the right course is to continue on the current schedule and not grant special rights to communities that now have decided to try to purchase the utilities that serve them,” Timmerman said.

LCRA staff plans to recommend a potential buyer or buyers to the board this summer, he added.

“LCRA believes it may take until mid-2013 to complete the sale,” Timmerman said.

raymond@thepicayune.com