After four years of legal battles over a water pipeline designed to run through Monty Bennett’s East Texas ranch, the Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to settle with the Dallas hotel magnate rather than continue with a condemnation lawsuit.
The $2.3 billion Integrated Pipeline Project is being built by the Tarrant Regional Water District. The City of Dallas is a partner in the project that is designed to bring more water from East Texas lakes to both sides of the Metroplex.
Dallas took the lead in negotiations because the disputed section of pipeline that would run through Bennett’s Henderson County ranch would eventually connect with Lake Palestine, where Dallas has water rights.
“A settlement has been reached but the details haven’t been finalized,” said Terry Lowery, interim director of Dallas Water Utilities.
A resolution passed by the Dallas City Council agreed “to re-route the project south of the property, or alternatively if the re-route is not feasible, agreed to a subsurface lease beneath the property.”
No details were given on how much it would cost to re-route that section of the pipeline.
The TRWD board still must approve the agreement.
“Because this portion of the pipeline impacts Dallas’ access to their water in Lake Palestine, we understand their desire to explore other options,” TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver said. “They have been and continue to be a great partner in this project, so we would certainly be willing to consider any settlement they reach with Mr. Bennett.”
It’s just infuriating that if you are rich enough, you can hold the city hostage for years and then get what you want. There’s something really wrong with that.
Dallas City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson
While the Dallas City Council approved the measure, it was met with distaste by Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, who said “it’s just infuriating that if you are rich enough, you can hold the city hostage for years and then get what you want. There’s something really wrong with that.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also expressed frustration.
“We are not taking any property,” Rawlings said. “We were laying pipe and putting the ground back in place. He has been working hard in Austin and in Tarrant County spending an inordinate amount of money getting candidates that he supports to fight us on this.”
Two years ago, Bennett poured in more than $220,000 to support two TRWD board candidates. But this year he contributed just $9,680 on mailers for board member Mary Kelleher, who lost her TRWD seat earlier this month. Dallas residents also poured money into the last two elections for board candidates supporting TRWD’s legal battle against Bennett.
Dallas intervened as a plaintiff in the TRWD condemnation lawsuit last October and the parties agreed to mediation March 23.
Besides the condemnation case, three other lawsuits between Bennett and TRWD are still pending.
The 150-mile pipeline will extend all the way from Lake Palestine to Lake Benbrook when it is completed. It is designed to cover Tarrant County’s water needs for roughly the next 20 years. TRWD, which provides raw water to almost all of Tarrant County, and Dallas have touted saving $500 million in capital costs by working together.
The first phase is scheduled to be completed in 2018, which will bring more water from TRWD’s Richland-Chambers reservoir to Tarrant County. The other phases of the project will be completed as more water is needed.