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LCRA considers amendment to new dredging ordinance; meeting Dec. 14

Lake LBJ

The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors will consider amending the Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance to give the general manager the authority to designate zones where Tier III operations, usually associated with commercial dredging, can take place. File photo of Lake LBJ

Less than a month ago, the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors approved a new Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance. That ordinance might be amended during the board’s next regular meeting, which is 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, at the LCRA General Office Complex Board Room-Hancock Building, 3700 Lake Austin Blvd. in Austin. The meeting will be livestreamed online for those who cannot attend. 

During its Nov. 17 meeting, the board approved the new Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance, due to go into effect in January. The ordinance allows dredging and filling operations to take place within the Highland Lakes but under certain guidelines.

According to the new regulations, commercial operators must apply for a permit through the Tier III guidelines. The process is extensive.

The proposed amendment doesn’t change any of the permitting process and rules but would give the LCRA general manager the power to create zones within the Highland Lakes where Tier III facilities could operate. 

The proposed amendment would “limit the scope of Tier III Commercial Dredge and Fill Activities based on considerations related to navigation, critical infrastructure, public safety and water supply needs.” 

The general manager “could revise or terminate these designations from time to time as conditions change,” according to the LCRA board agenda

While the amendment would add some “bite” to the ordinance, the LCRA is missing the chance to put some serious teeth in the new rules, said Fermin Ortiz, a Llano County rancher, businessman, and member of Save Lake LBJ.

“I think they missed a good opportunity to make some significant changes that would protect the entire Highland Lakes,” he said. 

Ortiz spoke during the Nov. 17 meeting, urging the LCRA board to remove the Tier III option altogether and extend a commercial dredging moratorium indefinitely. He said this new amendment could be the result of pushback from people living along the Highland Lakes chain. 

“This could give them some breathing room,” Ortiz said.

He remains concerned about how the Tier III zones will be determined. In his opinion, he said, it is unlikely such areas would be created near Horseshoe Bay, Lake Travis, or other locations where people have more financial or political clout. 

“I want to be clear, though: I don’t want (dredging and mining operations) in Horseshoe Bay; I don’t want them in Lake Travis; I don’t want them anywhere on the Highland Lakes,” he said. “I want them to go away.”

He recalled how LCRA board Chair Tim Timmerman said during the Nov. 17 meeting that nobody loves the Highland Lakes more than he does. Ortiz hopes the chairman realizes the Highland Lakes is more than Lake Travis, that each of the lakes is worthy of protection.

“I hope I’m wrong,” Ortiz added. “I hope they prove me wrong, and they’ll protect all the lakes. But I still think the best thing they could have done is thrown out the Tier III (permit) and kept the moratorium. That would have ensured protecting all the Highland Lakes.”