Victoria official says judge's whoopers ruling won't hurt city

Dianna Wray

March 15, 2013 at 11 p.m.
Updated March 15, 2013 at 10:16 p.m.

The judge has ruled, but the whooping crane case isn't over yet.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had violated the Endangered Species Act in its handling of water resources in 2008-09, contributing to the deaths of 23 whooping cranes.

Jack ordered the state environmental agency not to issue any other water permits until the stakeholders - including the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and the city of Victoria - could put together a habitation conservation plan for the region benefiting the whooping cranes.

Though a federal district judge has ordered the TCEQ not to issue any more water permits, the city of Victoria's water supply won't be affected, said Jerry James, director of intergovernmental relations.

On Friday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked a federal judge to put an emergency stay on Jack's decision.

Abbott argued that Jack had overstepped her authority in prohibiting the state from issuing new water permits along the two rivers that feed into San Antonio Bay and Aransas Bay - the Guadalupe and the San Antonio rivers - according to an Associated Press story.

A stay would allow the state to appeal the decision before it goes into effect, according to the Associated Press. If it is not issued, Abbot said he would go to the federal appeals court.

On Friday, Jack denied the motions filed by Abbott, the GBRA and the San Antonio River Authority, according to court documents.

Jim Blackburn, the Houston-based lawyer representing the Aransas Project in this case, said that Jack changed her order slightly, making an exception "for permits necessary to protect the public health," according to court documents.

"We're gratified that it's moving quickly," he said, noting that he expects a motion will now be filed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bill West, general manager of the GBRA, said the river authority filed an enjoinder motion with the state Friday. Court documents indicate the SARA also filed an enjoinder motion Friday.

"In the big picture, the stay is necessary for the state's benefit as a whole. She has ordered the TCEQ to do some things we don't think she has the authority to do," West said.

He said the order on water permits could impact pending permits for off-channel reservoirs near Victoria and Gonzales, which could impact development in those areas.

While Victoria officials are monitoring the case, James said the city has enough groundwater that the order against issuing surface water permits won't have much of an impact on the area.

"We put the plans and permits in place to protect ourselves from some unforeseen event, like, say, a judge's ruling or a drought," James said. "There's a lot of different things that could happen, and we've got ourselves positioned to handle that."

These provisions have put the city in a position to handle economic growth even without the surface water permits, but James said city officials are watching the issue closely.

"We want to maintain our reserves, so we can't just sit idly by. We're looking at what we do from here," he said.



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