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2013-01-17

BCRAGD holds public hearing on well drilling violations

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

The Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) board of directors held a public hearing regarding Notices of Violation the district had issued regarding two wells drilled for John Hayes on 173 South in the fall of 2011 through August of 2012.
The NOVs, approved by the board during their quarterly meeting held Oct. 4, 2012, cited six men for numerous alleged violations of the rules and regulations of both BCRAGD and the State of Texas for drilling water wells.
Appearing at the hearing to give their testimony were licensed well driller Bryce Wallace, Peter Bennett, Master Licensed Pump Installer Ed Basham, licensed well driller and pump installer Rodger North, and Robert Rae Powell, owner and manager of Pipe Creek Water Well, LLC (PCWW).
After hearing the testimony, the BCRAGD board met in executive (closed) session, with the water district's attorney, Richard Mosty of Kerrville.
Following the executive session, the board reconvened in regular session and postponed taking action on the testimony they had heard until Thursday, Jan. 17. "We heard a lot and got a lot of information and advice from our attorney and we decided we needed to take some time to think it all over," said one board member.
The hearing
During the hearing, the defendants were given an opportunity to respond to the charges levied against them, and then were questioned by BCRAGD General Manager David Mauk, Mosty, and by Keith Miller, an attorney for Powell.
Wallace had been assessed fines totalling $6,000 and had his authorization to drill in Bandera County revoked. He was charged with 10 violations. Wallace testified before the water district board in Thursday's hearing that the well log submitted by Pipe Creek Water Well to the BCRAGD on the Hayes well was "not the log I submitted to PCWW." Wallace said his log was handwritten. However, he said he did not keep a copy of that handwritten log. Wallace said he cased and grouted the well, working under Rae Powell.
Bennett had been assessed fines of $1,000 and had his authorization revoked. He was cited for two violations. Bennett, who holds no licenses from the state, said "I was just a hand helping out... I'd run the rig when Rae (Powell) was there." Bennett said he no longer works for PCWW.
When asked by Mauk if he thought Powell had a driller's license at the time, Bennett replied, "Yes." Bennett said the licensed driller on the site was Rodger North. "Was North present when I visited the site?" Mauk asked. "No," said Bennett, "but I wasn't drilling then; it was from the day before. We were filling the fuel tank."
Basham had been assessed a fine of $1,500 for two violations. Basham said he was in touch with the PCWW crew by phone when they attempted to "pull that pump out of the well... we couldn't get it out." Basham said the crew put the pipe and electrical materials to the side. "I assumed it was capped... I found out later that it was not," he said.
Basham said, "I assume they were working under my license. I did not go back to the site. The original Hayes well was not properly capped. That would be my responsibility."
North had been assessed a fine of $1,500, for three violations. In his testimony, North said he (babysat) the rig for a few days as a favor to Powell.
The water district had noted that the log signed by North had his named misspelled. "I told Rae to fill out the log because I'm not familiar with the formations in this area," said North in explanation.
Asked if he was in charge of drilling the Hayes well, North conceded, "I was (in charge of drilling), when I was there, I reckon." He also added that he did not know who was in charge when he wasn't there.
Powell's testimony
Powell had been assessed a fine of $9,500 for 16 violations. All of the other men charged were working for Pipe Creek Water Well at the time the alleged violations occurred.
Although Powell held an apprentice license at the time the Hayes well was drilled, he has since earned his well driller's license and master pump installer's license. He has owned PCWW since 2009.
Powell started out his testimony by saying, "Obviously we had a problem with the well. I'm embarrassed with the clerical errors. We've had staff changes since then."
Powell said he believed the Hayes well was properly cased and sealed, two of the violations with which he was charged. Powell asked if the water district staff had left the seal open. "It was open to the environment when we went out there," Mauk replied, denying the allegation.
Another violation regarded the lack of the driller's license number on the company's equipment. PCWW's truck had the previous owner's number on the truck even though he had nothing to do with the company for several years. "That's a detail I should have taken care of," said Powell. "It has been corrected."
Regarding the Hayes well, Powell admitted, there were "numerous mistakes on our part... we've made changes on our record keeping."
As part of his response on behalf of his client, Powell, attorney Miller told the board that he was concerned about the water district putting the actions of licensed drillers "onto Rae Powell's liability.
"I don't know how we impute these actions onto the president of the company," said Miller, who contended that Powell was basically an administrator.
He also said he cannot find the law to support BCRAGD's decision to keep PCWW from drilling in Bandera County. That kind of action has to go to an "impartial tribunal" such as District Court.
In a follow-up interview, Mauk said the water district has the authority to regulate who can drill in the county. "They can certainly appeal it to District Court if they want to," said Mauk.
BCRAGD Director Sid Gibson expressed his concerns by saying, "So much of this seems to be shady. These things [well logs, capping, plugging] are important, they need to be accurate."
Powell said, "Our company should have operated with much more discipline."
In closing Mauk asked Powell if he had told Hayes that the water from the well was not good. "No," said Powell, "if I had he wouldn't have heard me anyway."