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Lake lawsuit continues

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

In what might seem like intriguing timing, 216th District Judge Keith Williams signed a motion for partial summary judgment in a controversial lawsuit in Bandera County on Monday, Oct. 14, which is Columbus Day, when all government offices are usually closed. The motion for summary judgment was originally filed on May 28.

Williams signed the judgment just after Bandera County Commissioners approved filing an intervention in the lawsuit on Thursday, Oct. 10, to prevent the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 (BMA) from executing a perceived land grab. For months, BMA has attempted to lay claim to all property surrounding Medina Lake below Elevation 1084. That area includes county and state roadways, houses and the Bandera County Park.

In signing the order, Williams ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the lawsuit that had disputed public access to the lake. In legalese, the defendants, FD and Helen Franks, had conveyed to other plaintiffs, John and Debra Lance, interest in a .282-acre parcel of land. According to Williams' ruling, however, the Franks never acquired ownership in the disputed area by deed or other written instrument; and, therefore, had no fee ownership of the land to convey to the Lances.

According to the ruling, the Lances do not own the disputed area, but do have appurtenant easement rights, those that came with the property, in the disputed area as lot owners in the Redus Point Addition subdivision.
According to Williams, this comes under the express easement reserved in the 1917 Spettle Deed.

The court document states that easement rights do not give the Lances the right to exclude other lot owners from using any portion of the land below the flow line of the lake.
The Spettle Deed did give the right to use the waters in the reservoir - aka Medina Lake - for domestic purposes as well as for bathing, boating, fishing and hunting.

In the most troubling aspect of his ruling, Williams stated: "The disputed area is part of the land owned in fee by the Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 (BMA) as successor to the Medina Valley Irrigation Company (MVICO), grantee under the warranty deed dated January 22, 1917, from grantors Theresa Spettle et al ... referred to herein as the 'Spettle Deed."

However, in 1981, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled that BMA has no jurisdiction in Bandera County. In Case No. 16520, BMA vs. Wallace, the court also ruled that the warranty deed executed in 1917 from Joseph F. Spettle et al to the Medina Valley Irrigation Company, upon which BMA bases its ownership, had an insufficient description of the disputed tract of land.

On Feb. 5, BMA - as an interested third party - filed an intervention in the lawsuit filed against the Franks and Lances by Judith and Terry Robinson, Gary and Brenda Fest and Virginia Gray and Butch Townsend. The BMA intervention states: "The BMA owns the land below Elevation 1084 which encompasses the entire tract of land perportedly [sic] transferred from the Franks to the Lances. Further, the BMA asked the court to declare that "The title owner of the disputed tract and the surrounding area below Elevation 1084 is the BMA," which Williams' ruling essentially accomplished.

"If BMA files a lawsuit claiming they own all the land below 1084, one might conclude it had already been decided in this summary judgment," commented an observer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Bandera County officials engaged in the litigation were characteristically closed mouth about Williams' decision. County Attorney Janna Lindig who attended a hearing on the matter on Tuesday, Oct. 15 said the partial summary judgment essentially disposed of some issues and moved the case forward to the county. She said that Williams based his ruling on pleadings filed in the case. "He asked the parties to get together and decide what else needs to be done. If there is no resolution, the court will have to re-address the issues," Lindig said.
However, she explained that the ruling does not mean that BMA has title to all the land below the 1084 elevation. "There is concern that there not be any precedent set in the case," Lindig added.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris looks forward to the day when BMA re-submits to the court an amended intervention that removes the language "... and the surrounding area below Elevation 1084." "I just want to hear BMA say they don't want any land in Bandera County," he said.
For his part, County Judge Richard Evans declined to comment on the ruling because Bandera County remains a party to the lawsuit. "We filed our intervention and now we're part of the process," he said.

A question remains as to why Williams took such swift action on the partial summary judgment after Bandera County filed its intervention in the lawsuit. As pointed out the order had languished in the court file for months.

No one interviewed, however, would speculate on why Williams signed the partial summary judgment when he did - almost immediately after Bandera County's intervention. "You'll have to ask him," one advised.

According to Williams' representative, the court cannot speak to newspapers on pending litigation, but newspaper reporters are encouraged to attend court proceedings on this and other cases.
As a result of Williams' action, the Bandera County River Authority & Groundwater District called a special meeting for 9 am, Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the headquarters on FM 3240. For information on that meeting, see related story on BCRAGD.