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2012-10-11

BCRAGD fines 'gang who wouldn't drill straight'

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Following months of investigation and collection of evidence, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) Board of Directors voted to lower the drill bit on Pipe Creek Water Well, its owner and several employees for numerous violations of the district's rules and regulations.

According to BCRAGD General Manager David Mauk, six men associated with Pipe Creek Water Well were sent Notice of Violation (NOV) by the river authority this week. The move was approved by the BCRAGD board during their quarterly meeting held Thursday, Oct. 4.

Named on the list of those receiving NOVs were Pipe Creek Water Well owner Robert Rae Powell, licensed well driller Bryce Wallace, unlicensed well driller Glen Haskin, unlicensed well driller Peter Bennet, water well pump installer Edward Basham, and licensed water well driller Rodger North.

Fines assessed

The six were each charged with allegedly violating numerous BCRAGD rules and regulations that govern water well drilling and water quality issues in Bandera County. That means what they did - or didn't do - might be considered illegal.

The alleged violations will also be passed on to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), said Mauk.

BCRAGD assessed a fine of $9,500 for 16 violations against Powell, the owner of the company, and revoked his authorization to drill in Bandera County.

Wallace was assessed a fine of $6,000 and had his authorization to drill in Bandera County revoked. He is charged with 10 violations.

Haskin and Bennet were assessed fines of $1,000 each and had their authorization revoked. They were each cited for two violations.

Pump installer Basham was assessed a fine of $1,500 for two violations.

North was also assessed a fine of $1,500, for three violations.
The river authority's rules give each of the men served with NOVs an opportunity to appear before the BCRAGD board for a hearing on the charges.

The violations include, among others, failure to properly case a well, allowing commingling of water from different levels of the aquifers under Bandera County, allowing bad water to flow into good water, improper sizing of the bore hole, failure to case to the total depth of the well, lack of authorization and lack of providing advance notice to BCRAGD before performing certain activities.

The water well in question was drilled for John Hayes on his property off of Highway 173 South. Construction of the well was partially funded by USDA-NRCS programs. The well was intended for watering livestock.

Violations, violations

A BCRAGD field tech conducted a field inspection of the newly drilled well in early January of 2012. The well was not in operation at that time, but a violation of BCRAGD construction standards was observed.

In June, Hayes contacted BCRAGD with a complaint about the well. He reported that the well had never been "brought online and he was informed by Pipe Creek Water Well that the well had collapsed due to a lightning strike." He also said the pump had not been pulled because of the well collapse.

Examination of information on TDLR's website revealed a discrepancy regarding Powell's license to drill wells. TDLR showed only a license as an apprentice for Powell. As a result, a nuisance investigation was started by the district.

On June 6, a BCRAGD field tech inspected the well site and found the well abandoned, open and uncapped. The site was littered with the control panel, electrical wire and pipe. There was no evidence of a lightning strike.

On June 14, two field techs ran a video camera down the well that revealed only 23 feet of casing in the well and a collapse of the well at 196 feet. The well log, reports Mauk, indicates "there was 1,050 feet of casing in the well."

Shortly thereafter, Powell viewed the video of the well and "stated that he would replace [Hayes'] well and plug the existing well," Mauk added.

On July 17, Mauk and a field tech visited the site for an inspection and found two Pipe Creek Water Well employees drilling the new well. A search of TDLR's website showed that neither employee was licensed by TDLR. Mauk ordered the two men to cease "drilling operations until a TDLR licensed well driller or properly supervised TDLR licensed apprentice" arrived on the site.

During this entire period of time, TDLR records showed Powell licensed only as an apprentice well driller. It was not until July 18 that a licensed driller, Roger North, was found present on the site of the replacement well.

Invalid license

An inspection of the site by a field tech on July 23 found a drilling rig that did not have the license number of the driller of that well displayed. Instead, the rig had the license number of well driller Randy Roberts, who had previously owned Pipe Creek Water Well. "Roberts has not been associated with the company for several years," said Mauk.

On July 27, a field tech visited the site to inspect the well plugging activities. Basham was working at the site, but in a phone conversation with Mauk, indicated he had never plugged a well before and didn't know anything about a variance that the company was supposed to have requested from TDLR. The variance request was required by law because the pump was still down in the well.

According to the well log, the replacement well was completed on July 24. It was signed by North, and Powell as the apprentice. However, North's name was printed and misspelled. Numerous dates on the well log were also in error.

Usually, when BCRAGD points out a violation of its rules and regulations to a violator, the violator immediately takes steps to rectify the problem, Mauk said. However, in this case, violation after violation kept occurring. "Numerous BCRAGD and TDLR rules were violated and ignored," said Mauk. "It is very troubling that the victim of their actions, Mr. Hayes, of both elderly and disabled."

The BCRAGD board voted unanimously to issue the NOVs to the six men involved following an executive session with their attorney, Richard Mosty.

"We want to protect the people of the district from being taken advantage of," said Mauk.

Pictured: Courtesy photo
This photo of the Hayes well taken on June 6 shows pipes, electrical wires and electrical control boxes scattered around an open, uncapped well that showed no signs of having been struck by lightning.