Efforts under way to halt BRA permit pending audit

August 14, 2013

Representatives of the Brazos River Alliance have asked the governor to suspend the Brazos River Authority’s (BRA) permit for additional water rights until the agency can be audited under a new law that goes into effect Sept. 1.

They also asked that the BRA be placed at the top of the audit list, ahead of other river authorities. There are approximately 20 in Texas.

“It was a nice, long and – I think – productive discussion,” Alliance President Ken Hackett said of the meeting that took place at the Capitol last Thursday with three of Gov. Rick Perry’s top legislative aides.

Another meeting with the governor’s aides is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 26 – before judges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings determine who will get “party status” in discussions about whether the BRA’s permit should be granted.

In addition to Hackett, other members of the Alliance who attended last week’s meeting were David Haley, Mark Grella, Gary Newton and Kit Gretchel. Three local elected officials also were there: County Judge Darrell Cockerham and Granbury City Council members Tony Allen and Gary Couch.

Hackett said that staffers for state Sen. Brian Birdwell and state Rep. Jim Keffer were at the meeting and stated that their bosses are in favor of delaying the permit discussions.

The audit mandate that will go into effect in the coming weeks is due to the two lawmakers.

In March, Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Keffer (R-Eastland) filed companion bills designed to increase oversight and transparency of Texas’ river authorities.

HB 2362 and Senate Bill 1092 called for mandatory financial audits of river authorities by the State Auditor’s office, as well as a performance review by the Legislative Budget Board. Both are independent agencies overseen by legislative committees.

At the time that Birdwell and Keffer issued a joint news release about the bills, Matt Phillips, government and customer relations manager for the BRA, told media representatives that the agency is already an “open book,” but not opposed to increased transparency.

Late Monday, Keffer’s office emailed this statement from the representative to the Hood County News about last week’s meeting:

“During this historic and devastating drought, I believe granting any additional water rights permits should be handled with extreme caution.

“I feel that it is completely reasonable for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and (the) Brazos River Authority to delay the permit process until a formal audit from the state has been conducted on the BRA.

“In the name of transparency and reasonable conservationism, these requests should be honored.”

Efforts to reach Birdwell for comment were unsuccessful before press time. However, Hackett said that the senator’s chief of staff said at the meeting that Birdwell had already contacted the State Auditor’s Office to request that the BRA be the first river authority audited under the new law.

Hackett said that members of the Hood County contingent expressed concern to the governor’s representatives about the data the BRA had used in its permit request.

“We believe the new river audit bill gives the TCEQ the reasoning for delaying this permit to verify all of the numbers that they (BRA) have submitted,” Hackett stated.

“We’re not here to lop off anybody’s head, but we are here to certainly question the information they are giving us.”

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