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The Lower Colorado River Authority will designate zones on the Highland Lakes chain where commercial dredging facilities could operate, but only after the companies complete the permit process.

The LCRA Board of Directors on Dec. 14 approved an amendment to the Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance, giving the general manager the ability to designate places where commercial dredging facilities could operate. The amendment doesn’t apply to private homeowners and property owners who remove sand and sediment around their docks and lakeside structures. 

“(The amendment) designates where the LCRA believes it’s important for sedimentation removal because it affects navigability, public safety, critical infrastructure, water quality, and water quantity,” LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson explained to the board and those in attendance at the Tuesday meeting. “And we’ll look at those areas and it will say on the (LCRA) website, very publicly, if you choose to apply for this permit, these are the zones that are available.”

Wilson stressed that, even with his approval, commercial dredging operations must still complete a rigorous process to apply for and acquire a permit under the ordinance’s Tier III rules.

During its Nov. 17 meeting, the board approved the Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance, which has three tiers of requirements:

  • Tier I for homeowners or property owners doing upkeep
  • Tier II for maintenance and repair or construction of infrastructure and utilities
  • Tier III for commercial operations removing sediment and materials for resale

The third tier has the most stringent permitting process and requires operations meet Tier I and Tier II standards as well. 

After reviewing the ordinance, the LCRA decided an amendment was needed in regard to where Tier III operations would be allowed.

“Post (passing the ordinance), as we looked at the ordinance, it became very clear we, as the LCRA, really needed to articulate a better public policy on the necessity of dredging, where we wanted it to take place,” Wilson said. “And, in the course of conversations with staff and talking to the board, the idea of creating areas that we’ve identified that have heavy sedimentation and have heavy sand levels that we have identified on lakes throughout the system, it became clear that we, as LCRA, need to articulate the areas we’d like to have addressed and taken care of.”

Under the amendment, the general manager can designate zones where Tier III operations could occur. These would come from staff recommendations based on scientific review of how sand and sedimentation affects navigation, public safety, water quality and quantity, and infrastructure.

The amendment did not come about because of pushback from lakeside residents or based on clout as previously reported

Wilson told the board that there are places in the Highland Lakes chain where sand and sediment need to be removed. The amendment gives the LCRA the ability to designate those zones. As conditions on the lakes change, he pointed out that the LCRA can modify zones.

During the public comment period, a Kingsland resident expressed his concern about giving one person — the general manager — the power to designate these zones. The resident said he thought the board should have that authority, not one person, or at least there should be a public input or meeting option.

Wilson pointed out that the Tier III permit process does call for public comment on a proposed application, and he added that the board grants the general manager the authority to approve permits across a wide range of issues. He added that, under the ordinance as approved Nov. 17, Tier III commercial dredging is left open to anywhere on the lakes.

“We’re trying to tighten (the ordinance) up,” he said.

LCRA General Counsel Tom Oney reiterated that the passage of this amendment doesn’t open those zones up for commercial dredging without a permit. 

“Just because zones are created, the permits aren’t just granted,” he said. “Permits will still have to be applied for and go through the process.”

Wilson said the goal is to get those zones designated and posted on the LCRA website before the application process opens in January. The ordinance and amendment go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.