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Frustrated SRA board chairman resigns

11:53 PM, Jan. 15, 2012 |
Written by
Vickie Welborn – Shreveport Times

A public hearing will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the SRA-LA Pendleton Bridge office and from 6 to 7 p.m. that night at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center in Hemphill, Texas. Written comments must be submitted by Feb. 6.

TOLEDO BEND — Frustration tops the reasons Sabine River Authority Chairman Robert Conyer gave for his unexpected resignation late last week, ending a 4.5-year stint on the Toledo Bend Reservoir governing board.

Conyer, of Zwolle, tendered his resignation hours after the board of commissioners voted unanimously to suspend further movement on a proposed water sales contract that would have sent water to Texas. While Conyer was with the majority, his decision to leave was sealed with that vote.

“I came from a manufacturing background. I kept my job by getting things done and when it came to trying to pull something together to get something done for the SRA, working through politics became the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Conyer said.

He added, “I tried to do the right thing; we tried to do the right thing. We talked to everybody we could talk to. We got an attorney general’s opinion. I just didn’t know what else we could do and it just seemed at every turn there was something else demanded of us to do.”

Commissioners had already decided prior to Thursday’s meeting to end the water sales talks. Opposition from citizens, civic groups and local governing bodies had been growing in recent weeks, even though the SRA had been talking about TB Partners’ proposal for most of 2011 and took the first official vote in its favor in August.

SRA representatives participated in numerous meetings with state officials in the governor’s office to discuss specifics of the contract and at no time did anyone at the state level pull the plug.

Conyer said he and SRA Executive Director Jim Pratt traveled “up and down the basin” talking to government and civic groups to explain how they believed the contract with TB Partners for water sales was the best way to move away from hydroelectric power generation and create a more stable lake level.

“But we just didn’t have ability to get information to all of them and the end result is we were not able to make it work. I’m sorry for the people up and down the lake because there was such a benefit to it,” Conyer said.

Opponents were not convinced. The length of the 99-year contract, lack of a drought contingency, desire to keep the water for Louisiana residents and where the water sales revenue would be spent were worries expressed by many.

Meanwhile, TB Partners isn’t folding for now. “From the feedback we’ve received in recent weeks, both positive and negative, we do agree with SRA commissioners and the governor’s office that more time is warranted to study Louisiana’s water plan generally, and solutions for Toledo Bend specifically,” spokesman Shawn Rosenzweig said Sunday. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s a process to let the state of Louisiana and SRA play out before there is anything for us to do.”

And contrary to rumors already circulating, TB Partners is not taking its contract to the SRA commissioners in Texas.
“We’re definitely not negotiating with SRA-Texas,” Rosenzweig said.

However, he does believe there is a “misconception” that if Louisiana doesn’t sell the water then it won’t be sold.
Each SRA has statutory authority to sell almost 1 million acre-feet of water from the reservoir annually. Existing water sales contract are nowhere near that amount, but as water increases its importance as a commodity — especially in areas suffering from drought conditions — demand from Toledo Bend in the coming years could increase.

Lots more changes are on the horizon for Toledo Bend, Conyer said, as the relicensing process through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues. Some of those changes may not be palatable to the public but will be out of the SRA’s hands, he said.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added. “But I want the best for Toledo Bend. That’s all I ever wanted. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met and I’ve enjoyed my time there very much.”

Conyer’s position is likely to go unfilled for a few months since terms of current commissioners expire this year. The 13 representatives from parishes bordering the Sabine River Basin are recommended by their senators then they are approved by the governor. Action is not expected until the spring or early summer.

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