GBRA will continue business as usual after a judge chose not to issue an injunction against the River authority on Wednesday.
Visiting judge Steve Ables, Presiding Judge of the Sixth Administrative Judicial Region, denied property owners’ motion for a temporary injunction barring the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority from selling water at below market rates, completing plans to build an office facility in New Braunfels, giving money to nonprofit organizations and more.
While delivering his decision in a Guadalupe County courtroom, Ables said the plaintiffs had not proven that any of the things they wanted the river authority to stop doing would cause immediate, irreparable harm to the plaintiffs. The judge also said the lake residents failed to show they have a probability of winning the lawsuit.
“Right now, both of you are in a possibility, but I don’t think either of you is in a probability,” he told the plaintiffs and defendants. “The first injunction is still in place and I feel like that’s the important injunction.”
The judge’s order wrapped up a day and a half of testimony and arguments on the merits of a request made by attorney Doug Sutter on behalf of
his clients, property owners along the Guadalupe Valley Lakes. The request was for a temporary injunction to stop GBRA from conducting business as usual, and it spawned from a lawsuit the same plaintiffs have filed against the river authority and its officers.
Wednesday’s ruling doesn’t end the lawsuit Sutter filed Sept. 5 asking a judge to hold the authority responsible for “intentional failures to perform their statutorily imposed duties and their intentional actions outside of their statutory duties, considering the factual circumstances of this case,” according to the legal filing.
Both sides came to an agreement to stop the immediate dewatering of the lake while the suit continues through its legal stages. Ables placed an injunctive order into the record preventing GBRA from dewatering the lakes, and that order remains in effect.
Sutter said after the hearing Wednesday that he would have liked the judge to have granted his motion but he understands why Ables didn’t and, the attorney said, he is still happy with the outcome.
“I’m very happy with the fact that we’ve called attention to the money spent on buildings, insider trading and sale of cheap water,” Sutter said. “We brought that to the public’s attention and everybody’s attention. As the judge said, I don’t think we’re going to see that again. I think we accomplished that.”
During the hearing, Sutter called several witnesses to testify about many things. Some testimony included details about GBRA board member Don Meador’s $3 million sale of property easements that members of GBRA staff helped facilitate.
People would not have known about the easement sale or the fact that GBRA planned to spend about $6 million building a new headquarters in New Braunfels, plans which the river authority now have said are on hold, Sutter said.
“The thing we established today is the arrogance of this organization,” he said. “You heard the general manager say ‘You don’t have the right to tell us what to do with our business.’”
During his testimony Tuesday during the hearing, GBRA General Manager/CEO Kevin Patteson appeared to lash out while Sutter questioned him. Patteson appeared frustrated at the line of questioning and, possibly, the request for the injunction altogether.
“We don’t believe it’s your right to come into our business and tell us how to operate,” Patteson said on Tuesday.
But, as a quasi-governmental entity serving the state of Texas, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is supposed to act on behalf of the people, Sutter said. Patteson and everyone else at GBRA work for the people, the attorney said.
The court appearances prevented GBRA from conducting normal business, said Lamont Jefferson, the attorney representing the river authority and its officers. They are happy to get back to doing the business the river authority needs doing, Jefferson said.
“People of Texas set up the structure to create GBRA, to create GBRA and set up a structure to regulate GBRA with the” (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), he said. “Plaintiffs in this case, they’re concerned because they’re lakefront owners, not because they’re citizens of the state of Texas. The plaintiffs here are not here for the state of Texas. They’re here for their backyards.”
The lawsuit and motions for injunctions are huge distractions, Jefferson said. They prevent both sides from getting down to the business of figuring out how to fund replacement of the spill gates at all six dams in the hydro-lakes system, he said.
The dams that create the hydro lakes are all about 90 years old. Spill gates at two of the six, dams at Lake Wood and Lake Dunlap, have failed within the past four years.
Spill gates need to be replaced at all of the dams, Patteson has said, adding that they create a danger to the public because lives and property could be lost when they fail. He also has said GBRA has no money to replace them, but needs help from property owners, the government and whomever else is willing to provide funding.
Some property owners are working on funding plans to help update the spill gates but others like Sutter’s clients contest that GBRA has mismanaged its money, should be able to come up with funding on its own and is responsible to make the upgrades.