Vote calms Marvin Nichols - for now

By Glenn Evans 
March 19, 2015 at 4:30 a.m.

The Region D Planning Group votes to approve to remove their opposition to the Marvin Nichols Reservoir in the 2011 water plan during a public hearing on the proposed reservoir, on Wednesday Marc

MOUNT PLEASANT — Water planners for Northeast Texas removed objections in their state plan Wednesday to Marvin Nichols Reservoir, but they aren't crying uncle over the lake that Dallas-area planners and the state's water board forced them to accept.

"The fact is, this is not good for the region — that has not changed at all," Region D Water Planning Group Chairwoman Linda Price said after a 17-3 vote to remove objections from the 18-county group's 2011 water plan. "I don't see (local opposition) changing in the next plan."

The planning group already is working on its 2016 plan, for which a draft is due in Austin by May 1. And judging by member comments and those of 55 landowners and residents who attended Wednesday's meeting, Marvin Nichols will resurface in the next update.

The planners are scheduled to hash out the 2016 draft plan at an April 15 planning meeting. 

"This is just a little pause in the fight," Marion County representative John Bradley said after Wednesday's vote.

The action — with dissent from representatives of Delta, Lamar and Red River counties that are directly affected by the Sulphur River project — was prompted by a January ruling of the Texas Water Development Board to allow the Dallas-based Region C group to keep the lake in its plan and that ordered Region D to remove objections from its plan.

"We have been ordered by the TWDB to revise those words," Region D Administrator Walt Sears told the audience before the vote.

The action closes the most recent round in a long-running fight concerning Region D's portion of the 2011 state water plan. Price, and others voting to remove objections from that now four-year-old update, said the retroactive decision was necessary to remain eligible for state grants for projects in the plan.

The conflict ate almost all of that year's five-year update to the state plan, an update that expires at the end of this year.

Marvin Nichols Reservoir is a 67,000-acre lake, proposed mostly in Red River County.

The 16-county Region C group says it has exhausted other options in a search to supply water to its rapidly growing Dallas-area population, including conservation.

Speakers at a public hearing preceding Wednesday's vote don't believe that claim.

"Marvin Nichols protects the lawns in Region C rather than the resources in Region D," Eileen Collins told the 20-member planning group. "The Texas Water Development Board is favoring the residents of one part of Texas at the expense of others."

Cass County Judge Becky Wilbanks said the lake's footprint, plus nearly 200,000 acres in mitigation land preserved from commercial activity under environmental regulations, would devastate her county's economy.

Ward Timber and International Paper are the only significant industries in her and adjoining counties.

"If IP goes away, Cass County is in dire straits," she said. "The reduction in tax revenue by mitigation could never be recovered except in a tax increase on our citizens."

Letters opposing Marvin Nichols, from Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and the Texas Forestry Association, were read into the record during the public hearing.

"I am in favor of Region D being in control of our own water," Stoudt wrote. "I don't want Region C to have a voice or any say in this matter."

The Forestry Association, a 100-year-old nongovernmental organization promoting conservation and the timber industry, predicts Marvin Nichols will have a $30.3 billion impact on Northeast Texas timber commerce and payrolls.

The association also wrote half the water rights in the proposed Lake Columbia in Cherokee County remain available.

Price, whose family owns Ward Timber, assured the audience before the vote that the lake fight is still on. 

"We are not voting to put Marvin Nichols in our plan," she said. "The Texas Water Development Board said, '(For) 2011. Take the conflict out.' In no way has this board softened their feeling about Marvin Nichols and protecting the natural resources in Region D."

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