Absent a farmer, city in violation

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The city of Fort Stockton needs to find a farmer to work 274 acres of its land in order to avoid being in violation and facing possible fines from the Texas Commission of Environment Quality (TCEQ).

The city council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, June 11 regular meeting to approve the request for proposals for someone to farm the acreage adjacent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice complex.

The 274-acre site houses a city-run wastewater treatment plant that serves the prison, as well as three wells tapped into the Edwards Trinity aquifer. The wells are permitted as H&E (Historic and Existing), meaning they designated for agricultural use. The wells are permits to produce 960 acre-feet of water for agricultural use.

The effluent water from the wastewater plant is also used for agriculture.

The land, which was formerly farmed by prison inmates and later leased to a farmer, has not been used since the department of criminal justice stopped farming operations last year. That put the land in violation of TCEQ use requirements.

The city was not aware of its ownership of the wells until about six months ago, according to City Water Attorney Mark Harral.

While the search for a farmer has been approved, the city tabled a motion regarding requesting proposals for pump-testing of the wells and a hydrology study. The city is seeking to replace the H&E permits on the three wells in favor of permitting for municipal or public supply use as drinking water.

The pump test would cost the city $15,000. The hydrology test would be around $80,000.

A meeting with city officials and members of the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District (MPGCP) is planned for Friday morning in order in an attempt to resolve or clarify issues tied to such a change.

Among those issues – and the driving force in tabling the agenda item – are the clarification of the terms “municipal” and “public” as applied to water supplies; permitting requirements from the MPGCP; the potential need for pump-testing and a hydrology study; and potential challenges to the permit change from local farmers.

Ty Edwards, general manager of the MPGCD, suggested the meeting between the two entities to talk about a solution.

Amending the current permits instead of changing them would allow the city to keep their historic and existing status.

“That's a route that would be less contentious,” said Edwards.

In another water-related agenda, the council did not act upon authorizing the city manager and city water attorney to present possible permitting protests to the MPGCP. The council and City Attorney Jesse Gonzales agreed that such authority already exists.

“It would be nice for (City Manger) Frank (Rodriguez) and I to be able to protest an application that negatively impacts the city,” said Harral.

The protest hearing could be a fast process, possibly happening the same day as the permit hearing.

In other actions:

• The council approved the Fiber ISP Service agreement with Big Bend Telecom's Broadband Service for the new police department at 1706 N. Front Street.

•The council approved five requests from homeowners to build carports on their property. The Planning and Zoning Committee already approved the applications before it was heard by the city. Kevin and Amanda Shumate was the one house that Planning and Zoning had questions on and after hearing it the council approved. The ordinance for carports just states that it can't impede traffic.

•A future meeting will discuss electrical infrastructure at Stockton Farms and a right of way issue.

The Fort Stockton City Council meets the second and fourth Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. At 121 West Second Street.

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