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Town accepts deal on water tower

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Settlement could lead to completion of project in Bartonville

The Bartonville Town Council has agreed to accept a settlement offer in its long-running battle with a local water supplier over construction of a water tower, an offer that included recovering $350,000 in legal costs and related costs for the town.

In a 3-2 vote during a special called meeting Monday night, the council agreed to a proposal that will allow Cross Timbers Water Supply, formerly the Bartonville Water Supply Corp., to submit a new application to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission to finish building the tower.

The town and the water supplier agreed to dismiss a three-old-lawsuit over the unfinished tower after several conditions within the settlement agreement are fulfilled.

Council members Norma Harrington and Jim Langford voted against the settlement agreement, which some residents have criticized for failing to enforce the town’s zoning ordinances.

The conflict first erupted in 2011 when the water supplier decided to build a second, $1.2 million tower and the town sued to stop construction, saying that the water supplier failed to obtain a construction permit. The water supplier has argued that its authority to build the tower comes from the state water code.

A portion of the case was eventually heard by the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio, which in March 2013 overturned a Denton district judge’s decision on the town’s zoning authority. But the appeals court did not answer the question about whether a construction permit should be granted.

Settlement talks had stalled until recently. Longtime Mayor Ron Robertson and Mayor Pro Tem James Farrell resigned abruptly at the end of last year after new council members more sympathetic to settlement came on board.

In its settlement offer, the water supplier agreed to make a one-time payment of up to $350,000 to reimburse Bartonville for a portion of its legal costs and to make one other specific capital improvement in the system, an 8-inch water line loop, within five years of building the tower. The water supplier also agreed to indemnify Bartonville against future claims arising from the water tower’s construction.

Bartonville residents Susan and Dick Armey, former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 26th District, sued in December 2012 to block construction of the water tower, which is near their property. That private lawsuit made national news in February when word got out that Renda and Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s CEO, were part of that lawsuit — which includes two other couples in addition to the Armeys — through one of their Bartonville properties, the Bar RR Ranch.

The Tillersons and Bar RR Ranch dropped out of the lawsuit in March.

Dick Armey was present Monday night when the council voted both to accept the settlement agreement and to commission a study on whether the water tower is needed.

Council members said they’d heard competing claims whether the second water tower was needed to maintain sufficient water pressure for fighting fires.

While not required by state rules and regulations for a public water supply, the Insurance Services Organization routinely reviews community resources for firefighting and ranks them accordingly. Communities with poor rankings tend to have higher property insurance premiums for businesses and homeowners.

Two other council members, Jeff Traylor and Gary Marco, opposed the motion to spend town money on the study, saying that it was up to the water supplier to prove the need.

Historically, Bartonville-area residents, many of whom have homes on lots of 1 acre or more, use more water than residents in other communities, particularly in the summer months.

During the winter, residents use about 250 gallons of water per day per connection, according to Lloyd Hanson, comptroller at Cross Timbers Water Supply. That’s close to the 254 gallons per day used by the average American family, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Geological Society. But Bartonville’s usage increases to nearly 500 gallons per connection per day in the summer. During the drought in 2011, it spiked to about 1,000 gallons per day, Hanson said.

On its website, Cross Timbers Water Supply said that two registered professional engineers have confirmed a second water tower is needed for its system, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reviewed and approved its construction.

While not contingent upon receiving a permit to finish the tower, the water supplier is not bound to the capital investment, legal fees and indemnification pledged to Bartonville without a successful permit application, settlement documents showed.

The town and the water supplier are expected to issue a joint press release when the dispute is completely resolved.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.