City to take BRA fight to D.C.

March 23, 2013

The Granbury City Council is putting aside its conservative stance on trips to travel en masse to Washington, D.C. as the disagreement with the Brazos River Authority (BRA) turns to a game of hardball.

At issue is whether mismanagement by the BRA is to blame for continuing low water levels in Lake Granbury.

All but one member of the council voted Tuesday night to make the trip. The officials will not board a plane to D.C. until City Manager Wayne McKethan arranges meetings with elected representatives at the nation’s Capitol as well as with officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

At the start of the discussion, council member Mickey Parson made an apparent reference to the fact that Mayor Pro Tem Nin Hulett’s wife works for Luminant, and thus has a connection to the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant near Glen Rose.

The desired meeting with the NRC is to make an argument for the lake to be kept full because of safety concerns related to the plant.

According to the city manager, in the event of an emergency at the nuclear power plant, massive amounts of water would be needed to cool the reactors. The water at nearby Squaw Creek Lake might well become contaminated, he has said before, thus requiring that water be pulled from Lake Granbury.

On Wednesday, regional NRC officials challenged the assertions being made by McKethan and others.

Bill Maier, regional state liaison officer for the Arlington-based Region IV, sent emails to Hulett and to County Judge Darrell Cockerham explaining that Lake Granbury’s water level does not impact the safe shutdown of Comanche Peak Units 1 and 2.

NRC specifications “require that Comanche Peak maintain a water level of 770 feet above mean sea level in the body of water which is formed by a cove of the Squaw Creek Reservoir and is retained by a seismically qualified dam,” Maier’s email states.

“Maintaining this water level ensures that enough water will be available (30 day supply) under all considered scenarios to provide cooling for safe shutdown of both units without relying on water from Lake Granbury in an emergency.”

Lara Uselding, head of public affairs for Region IV, said that the Comanche Peak plant has “two resident inspectors” and that the plant follows “very strict regulations for safety.”

After Hulett announced the agenda item pertaining to the proposed trip, Parson stated: “I perceive a conflict of interest for the mayor pro tem.”

Hulett quickly interjected, saying that he had met earlier with City Attorney Stuart Neal and the two agreed there was no conflict. Neal, who was seated at the dais, concurred.

During the discussion, Hulett brought up the NRC’s office in Arlington. He suggested that the council discuss its concerns with the representatives there rather than spend the money to go to Washington.

Some local officials have told the Hood County News that they do not feel confident dealing with area representatives of the NRC.

The trip to Washington is expected to cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for each person, depending upon the length of stay.

Council member Tony Allen acknowledged that in the past he has opposed some out-of-state excursions at taxpayer expense, but said he believes the Washington trip is important enough to spend the money.

In a guest column published by the HCN last Saturday, BRA board member and Hood County resident Chris Adams challenged many of the assertions being made about the river authority.

“Drought conditions, high evaporation rates, and low flow environmental releases in 2009, 2011 and 2012, as well as the continued use of the stored water supply in the reservoirs, caused the lake levels to drop,” he wrote.

Allen stated that spending $10,000 or more for at least some members of the council to travel with the city manager to Washington will be worth the cost.

“I’m telling you, if we lose the lake – every one of us is going to lose more than $10,000,” the councilman said. “We’ve got a major, major problem.”

Referring to Hulett’s suggestion of dealing with local NRC representatives, Parson said that plans for the airport involving the Federal Aviation Administration were, “lo and behold,” speeded up once city officials took their concerns to the top people in Washington.

Council member Laurel Pirkle commented that worries about the lake aren’t just relevant now, but are a major concern for the future.

“If it (Lake Granbury) goes, we go with it,” he stated.

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