Landowner sues Tarrant water district over pipeline

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Tarrant Regional Water District is being sued by a wealthy landowner in Henderson County who contends the agency has illegally approved a $2.3 billion pipeline that cuts across his ranch.

Monty Bennett of Dallas reportedly has a wildlife refuge on the 1,000-acre property and doesn't want the project cutting across his land, according to the lawsuit filed in Tarrant County civil court late Monday.

The lawsuit contends the district violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in how it approved various portions of the project. It states that the board "rubber stamped" decisions and recommendations made by the water district's staff and from three key committees without any public deliberation.

Bennett contends that the Texas Open Meetings Act demands transparency and open deliberations in every step of the decision-making process.

"Regrettably, TRWD and its board have ignored that obligation and deliberately (have) chosen to conduct the district's affairs in a manner shielded from public view," the lawsuit states. "

Bennett's attorneys are seeking an injunction that would prohibit the agency from taking any further action on the pipeline until questions about the open meetings act are answered. The lawsuit also says they are seeking minutes of meetings from both water district board and its committees.

In a statement, the Water District said its meetings are legal.

"The Tarrant Regional Water District complies with all applicable laws, including the Texas Open Meetings Act. We believe this suit filed by a Dallas resident is baseless and without merit. We intend to vigorously defend it."

The suit alleges that the board approved all 339 recommendations from the various committees and water district staff.

In 2010, the issue of the Tarrant Regional Water District Board violating the Open Meetings Act came up during the campaign of board members Marty Leonard and Jim Lane who eventually won re-election.

In that race, challengers Adrian Murray and John Basham, said the board was essentially acting as a rubber stamp for the water district's staff and that when board members do debate issues that it is done behind closed doors.

The water district pointed to a provision in the Texas Water Code that said a committee meeting that doesn't include a quorum does not have to comply with the open meetings law.

In 2010, Lane, who still a member of the water district board and is now a candidate for the Fort Worth City Council, insisted the water district's subcommittee meetings complied with the Open Records Act.

"Just because the vote is unanimous doesn't mean no has one has talked about it or discussed it at the board meeting," Lane said in 2010. "No one is in violation of the Open Meetings Act. As a lawyer and as a taxpayer, if I saw it, it would be my duty to inform [District Attorney] Joe Shannon."

Lane couldn't immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Tarrant Regional is working with Dallas Water Utilities on a $2.3 billion pipeline to bring more water from existing East Texas reservoirs.

The first phase that will go to Cedar Creek Lake is currently scheduled to start construction in 2014 but isn't expected to be completed until 2021.

The water is needed as the population of North Texas is expected to double by 2060. The water district, which provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, including the cities of Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield, will need 400,000 acre-feet per year more than the current supply. One acre-foot is about 325,000 gallons.

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

Twitter: @fustily

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