State reviewing contract that would sell Louisiana drinking water to Texas
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS First Posted: January 03, 2012 - 7:01 am Last Updated: January 03, 2012 - 9:35 am
BATON ROUGE, La. — The Jindal administration opposes, at least for the time being, a proposal by Republican fundraisers that would sell Louisiana drinking water to Texas.
"There's talk of a January vote and I think that is way too fast," Stephen Waguespack told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/tdz3vA ) last week. He is reviewing the deal for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. The contract will need Jindal's signature.
The 13-member Sabine River Authority Board is expected to vote later this month on a contract of up to 99 years duration, which would sell to private investors up to 600,000 acre-feet of fresh water — about 195 billion gallons — from Toledo Bend for 28 cents per thousand gallons. The state is allowed to sell up to 1 million acre-feet of the 76-mile-long reservoir, which is capable of storing about 4.5 million acre-feet of water.
If the terms are met and agreed upon, the SRA could net about $54.7 million a year. The SRA reports that in good years, its annual budget is about $4.5 million.
"I don't think they have worked through all the complex issues with those stakeholders. They need to do that," Waguespack, Jindal's chief of staff, said of the SRA. "Stakeholders" include farming communities that depend on the water for irrigation, natural gas drillers in the Haynesville shale fields who use water-intensive processes to extract natural gas, and downstream efforts that use the fresh water from the Sabine River to help rebuild marshes to stop coastal erosion.
But Donald T. "Boysie" Bollinger, the head of Toledo Bend Partners LP, the private company proposing to buy the water, said the contract would provide the SRA, the people living in the parishes next to the reservoir, and the rest of the state, money from a resource presently not being used.
"We're throwing this water down the Sabine River into the Gulf. It's excess water for the needs of Sabine River basin parishes," Bollinger said. If the contract is approved, TB Partners would build a pipeline and sell drinking water to Texas municipalities, he said.
The 2007 State Water Plan for Texas projects future municipal demands will increase 92 percent between 2010 and 2060, from 1.5 million acre-feet to 2.9 million acre-feet.
The minutes of meetings of the Dallas City Council show that Texas' second largest city has been pursuing drinking water from Toledo Bend since 2008. Houston, that state's largest city, unsuccessfully sought the water before that.
Bollinger's family, as well as family members of Aubrey Temple Jr., a banker and businessman from DeRidder, and Billy Joe "Red" McCombs, a San Antonio car dealer and investor, are listed in the proposed contract as owning 10 percent or more of TB Partners, a company with dozens of investors.
Bollinger, a Lockport shipbuilder, his family and their companies have given nearly $1 million in 500 contributions to candidates seeking a variety of offices in Louisiana over the past dozen years, according to disclosures made with the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Temple has given about $53,000 to GOP candidates in Louisiana.
Negotiations between TB Partners and the Sabine River Authority began in January 2011, said Jim Pratt, SRA executive director. A contract was hammered out in June 2011. But Jindal kicked it back, saying because the water is owned by Louisiana taxpayers, the SRA needed to follow established competitive bidding procedures, a process called "Request for Proposals."
The SRA is scheduled to close public comment period Friday and plans a Jan. 12 public hearing, Pratt said. A committee of the SRA Board recommended approving the contract at the next official meeting on Jan. 26.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com
(NOTE: Highlights per Dianne Lampman)