Chamber, city trade barbs over lake

April 17, 2013

Three days after a letter emailed by Granbury Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mike Scott denounced “public officials” for publicly questioning whether low lake levels impact the safety of the nuclear power plant, Granbury City Manager Wayne McKethan issued a statement of his own, calling the message “inaccurate and politically influenced.”

Scott sent the letter to chamber members after chamber leaders met to discuss a recent television news report about the nuclear concerns. McKethan appeared briefly in the segment.

“I did not instigate the interview, and simply responded to questions posed to me when the TV reporter came to my office,” the city manager said in a written message to the Hood County News. He added that his on-air comments “were very benign.”

McKethan’s email to the HCN included copies of a March email exchange between him, Scott and Shanna Smith, the city’s marketing and communications director. It appeared that Scott had blind-copied Chris Adams, a local board member of the Brazos River Authority (BRA).

Adams replied to the blind-copy, which resulted in McKethan and Smith becoming aware that their communications were being shared with the BRA without their knowledge.

McKethan has been openly critical of the BRA and the way it has managed the water in Lake Granbury. Adams has stated that prolonged drought has been the main problem, not mismanagement.

Scott said the explanation of what happened with the email is “very simple,” and that there was “no collusion.”

Adams had originally emailed him about an “advertorial” in the publication “360 West,” and a common belief that Lake Granbury is supposed to be a constant level lake. Scott said he responded, telling Adams that he would send it to McKethan and Smith, since they were likely “the folks most involved” with that publication.

“I copied Chris so he would know my action,” Scott explained. He added that he and other chamber officials have regular communications with the BRA.

“We’re a non-political organization,” he said. “We communicate with the BRA. Chris is our local rep.”

Linking the lake level to nuclear safety has had a polarizing effect on the community. There are some who, like the chamber leaders, oppose the strategy. But there are some – including a number of elected officials – who share McKethan’s stance.

The Granbury City Council recently voted to travel with McKethan to Maryland to meet with officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

On Tuesday, McKethan and other city and county officials were scheduled to meet with NRC representatives at the regional office in Arlington.

McKethan said that the other local officials scheduled to attend the meeting included: Mayor Pro Tem Nin Hulett; council members Tony Allen and Mickey Parson; County Judge Darrell Cockerham; and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Steve Berry.

The chamber’s letter

The letter signed by Scott referenced the “controversial story” that had been aired by a Metroplex news station about Granbury lake levels and the safety of the nuclear plant.

“It is the consensus of our Board that there are more advantageous, proactive and collaborative ways for our community to address lake level concerns than for public officials to publicly question the safety of the nuclear power plant through the media.

“To essentially question the safety of our hometown – in the face of NRC evidence and an official statement from Luminant to the contrary – is misleading, a narrow view and potentially damaging to business and property values. After all, no one wants to do business in a community that is allegedly not ‘safe’.”

Scott’s letter went on to say that the board has “long been a proponent” of an economic impact study. A group of citizens recently formed a committee to commission such a study, with the intention that it be completed before an administrative hearing is held in Austin in late summer on the BRA’s request for additional water rights.

Scott’s letter ended with this:

“The Granbury Chamber is committed to Granbury through our businesses and families, and we believe problems are best resolved through open and honest communication among all stakeholders. Sadly, when concerns disintegrate into biased public media reports, everyone loses.”

McKethan’s response

McKethan stated in his email that he wanted to “explain the logic” of the city’s actions.

He said that after Luminant officials declined to support the city’s efforts to get more water for Lake Granbury, the city’s attorney informed him that Luminant had signed an agreement with the BRA.

Luminant operates the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, which is in neighboring Somervell County.

The agreement – according to McKethan – states that the energy company will not fight the BRA’s request for more water rights as long as Luminant is guaranteed more water in the future.

Another factor is a belief by city leaders that local NRC officials are “closely involved” with regulation of the Comanche Peak plant “and their responses as well might be influenced by the existing agreement.”

“The Council and myself decided therefore to take the issue to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, in order to hopefully receive a more independent review of the lake level issues that we were raising,” McKethan explained.

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