LHISD will fight City’s attempt to overturn TCEQ ruling on water

By SHELLY WILKISON

After meeting with their attorney for 90 minutes in closed session Wednesday, Liberty Hill school trustees voted unanimously to authorize the superintdent and the district’s legal counsel to take whatever steps are necessary to fight the City’s appeal of the state’s decision to release the district from the City’s water and wastewater service area.

The actions taken by the school board Wednesday were the latest in an ongoing dispute over who should provide water to the district’s new high school facility on State Highway 29 west of Liberty Hill. The high school and athletic complex, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in August 2013, is outside the city limits.

In 2011, the school district filed an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality seeking to be released from using city water because it received a bid from Chisholm Trail Special Utility District that was about $1 million cheaper than the costs proposed by the City to connect to its water system.

About two weeks ago, the parties were notified that TCEQ had approved the district’s application for release. The City immediately filed an appeal seeking to overturn that decision.

The Board’s vote Wednesday authorized that the appropripriate steps be taken to prepare the response.

Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart said the Commission then has 45 days to make another decision or hold a hearing.

Hart has said repeatedly that it is in the best interest of the school district’s taxpayers to use Chisholm Trail as its water provider because it will save money.

In a related vote, the Board voted unanimously to opt out of the City’s proposed expanded water service area.

Hart said the district qualified under TCEQ rules to be released because it met the 25-acre threshold. The new high school complex is being built on 96 acres.

Hart said the school district would still like to connect the property to the City’s wastewater system. But an ordinance passed by the City Council requires wastewater customers to also be customers of the water utility and be annexed into the city.

He said the district filed an application for wastewater service with the City in February 2011, which was within the time frame grandfathered by the new ordinance. However, “that application has
suddenly gone missing from the City,” he said. “And that’s funny because we still have our copy of it.”

He said that issue remains unresolved.

At press time late Wednesday, The Independent submitted an open records request to the City and the school district requesting a copy of the application.

School architects and contractors on the new school facility updated Board members Wednesday on the progress at the construction site. By late February, building foundations will be poured and structures will start going up in March.

“We are quickly approaching the time when these delays are going to impact our progress on this project,” Hart said.

The Board took no action on an item posted on the agenda regarding an Interlocal Agreement with Chisholm Trail to provide water service.

In other business Wednesday, the Board heard from architects on the proposed schematic design of renovations to the existing junior high and high school campuses.

When the new high school is complete, fifth and sixth grade students will move from the Intermediate campus into the existing Junior High School. Seventh and eighth grades will move into the current high school campus.

Part of the bond package passed by voters in 2010 paid for renovations to both campuses.

Trustees voted Wednesday to approve the schematic designs as presented. Next month they will review and take action on actual designs that will include materials, colors and other details.

Also Wednesday, the Board received letters of appreciation from the National Junior Honor Society at Liberty Hill Junior High and letters from elementary -age students in conjunction with School Board Appreciation Month in January.