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2016-01-14

Judge grants BCRAGD's motion against BMA

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater Conservation District (BCRAGD) received a belated Christmas gift from Judge Rex Emerson of the 198th District Court this week. Emerson granted the district's motion for summary judgment in Cause No. CV-13-351 on Jan. 7.
BCRAGD filed the suit against Bexar Medina Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 to clarify jurisdictional issues of the two districts in Bandera County. BCRAGD contended that state law prevented two water control districts from having overlapping jurisdictions. BMA, an irrigation company with rights to water in Medina Lake, contended that it owned properties in Bandera County and therefore had jurisdiction over those properties.
In Emerson's order, he stated that "on said property [BMA] has all the rights, duties and responsibilities of an individual property owner [emphasis ours]."
He went on, "Both the BCRAGD and the BMA are legislatively created water districts with defined boundaries that do not overlap [emphasis ours]."
Emerson concluded his order with three declarations: "That Defendant Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 has no jurisdiction in Bandera County to: a) Enforce any jurisdiction or rules over groundwater or surface water; b) Promulgate any rules relating to groundwater; or c) Exercise any regulatory enforcement rights as a water control and improvement district."
Don Sloan, president of the board of directors for BCRAGD, said he welcomed the clarification offered by the legal decision. "We're very pleased with this outcome. This will be to the great benefit of the people of Bandera County by keeping local control of water issues," Sloan said.
BCRAGD's board of directors voted way back on Oct. 22, 2013, to file the suit against BMA to clarify the jurisdictional questions. The board became concerned about a possible attempt by BMA to impose its authority over water issues in Bandera County while working through the State Legislature to change BCRAGD's directors' election date from May to November.
At that time BMA tried to add an amendment to BCRAGD's proposed legislation that said "To the extent of a conflict between the rules adopted by the district and the rules adopted by the [BMA] within territory subject to the rules of both the district and the [BMA], the rules of the [BMA] shall prevail."
This week's judgment by Emerson finally makes it clear that there is no territory subject to the rules of both entities.
In June 30, 2013, issue of the Courier, this writer cited an interview with BMA business manager Ed Berger.
Berger asserted that BMA has historically had legal control of lakefront property below the 1084 line (the top of Medina Dam). He cited as an example an agreement between BMA and its Waterfront Property Owners Association reached in 2007, in which the WPOA members acquired a perpetual easement to their lakefront property. WPOA members pay BMA one dollar per linear foot of lakefront per year for that easement, Berger said at a Sept. 25, 2015 hearing.
Berger said over 440 people have signed that agreement. According to testimony Berger gave at a previous district court hearing, that represents about 180 properties in Bandera County.
However, not everyone agrees that BMA has a clear title to all the property below the 1084 line. The Lake Medina Conservation Society (LAMCOS) is an organization founded at least in part to support lakefront property owners who disagree with BMA's position of entitlement.
BMA continues to make its claims to the land below the 1084 line in Bandera County despite the fact that the Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled in 1981 that BMA has no jurisdiction in Bandera County.
In Case No. 16520, BMA v Wallace, the court also ruled that the warranty deed upon which BMA asserts its ownership, executed in 1917 from Joseph F. Spettle et al to The Medina Valley Irrigation Company, had an insufficient description of the disputed tract of land to be enforceable.