King backing groundwater district for Wise County

February 4, 2007

Wise County Messenger

By Skip Nichols

State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) has three bills that he intends to file on a groundwater protection district that would include Wise County, he said Friday in a telephone interview.

King said one of the three bills would put a five-county district – including Wise, Parker, Montague, Hood and Somervell counties – up for a vote in November. Another bill would include only Wise and Parker counties and the final bill would be just for Wise County.

“We’re trying to reach a consensus among community leaders,” said King as he drove home from Austin through Waco just after noon. “I’m very strongly leaning toward the five-county district. But we want to have all ready if needed.”

King said he’s been talking extensively with Wise County Commissioner Kevin Burns about the groundwater district.

The county has made the district a legislative imperative since it learned a draft study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality named Wise County as a priority groundwater management area. That designation triggers a two-year window to set up a groundwater district otherwise the state places the county in a much larger district.

King and other state officials have said that Wise County would likely become a part of a 13-county district, where the political and geologic differences are vast. Such a district would be funded from taxes.

A potential problem to the five-county district surfaced when it was learned that Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) was writing legislation for a six- or seven-county district to include Tarrant County.

“There’s merit both ways,” said King, talking about Geren’s proposed legislation or his bill for a five-county district. “He asked if I minded if he met with the local leaders to discuss his bill. I said that was fine. In fact, the decision needs to be made by the local communities.”

Wise County Judge Bill McElhaney said that he will meet with Geren and other county judges, including Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, next Friday (Feb. 9) in Parker County to discuss the groundwater district.

McElhaney said that Geren told him by phone Thursday that Tarrant County needs to be a part of the district because “rural counties will do a better job of conserving the groundwater.”

One concern among local leaders is whether the district’s governing board would be weighted by population or if each county would be represented equally. If population is used, none of Wise County’s leaders are interested because Tarrant County would dominate the board, they said.

Other legislation

King also said he’s filed several other bills that should interest Wise County residents.

One involves notification of property owners by oil and gas companies of their intention to drill.

“It would require written notification to all property owners,” King said. “Most good companies do that anyway. But, there are some who just come on the property and start bulldozing a road and building pads.”

King said the bill was prompted by the numerous complaints he’s received from property owners.

King admitted that the oil and gas lobby is not happy with the bill. Still, he said, he believes common sense will prevail and that a certified letter is simply “common courtesy.”

Another piece of legislation King has filed could bring added taxes to Wise County.

It requires drilling rigs to be taxed in the county where they are being used. Currently, King said, most rigs are based out of Midland or Houston and those counties get the property tax revenue.

King said it’s not unusual for a rig to be in Wise County for all 12 months – and “that’s where it should be taxed,” he noted. Rig owners would rather pay Wise County taxes anyway, he said, because it would save them money.