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Do Mayor Nirenberg and the City Council Know What’s Going on with SAWS and the 3 Billion+ Dollar Vista Ridge Project?

Hear-Speak-See-No-Evil

Last week I reported to you that SAWS has a little $120 million problem of an apparently misappropriated loan for the Vista Ridge “San Antone Hose”. This is the tip of the iceberg on the $3+ billion Vista Ridge boondoggle and all kinds of wrong being done to Texas.

An independent legal and financial review of Vista Ridge by the San Antonio City Council is warranted to restore the public’s confidence —and to guard your wallets. That is your calling card today to the Mayor and your council member before SAWS comes to them for a water rate hike on November 9th.

The full story that has been kept from you:

What has yet to be taken seriously – by any newspaper – is a fact that continues to stick in the craw of the “source” communities of Burleson and Milam counties. It’s the guy in this picture – Scott Carlson, a principal in Brenham-based Metropolitan Water Company.

Scott Carlson is the guy that no one in the Vista Ridge project, especially SAWS, wants to talk about. Yet he and Met Water are as much “private partners” in Vista Ridge as any of the other private, for-profit companies who have partnered with SAWS and who stand to make a killing on this project. This includes the potential for destroying a priceless resource – the slow-to-no-recharge Simsboro aquifer formation of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer underlying Burleson, Milam, Lee and Bastrop counties.

In 2001, Carlson pled no-contest to stealing $2.4 million from his oil and gas employer just as he was getting started in the water leasing business. Groundwater leasing is largely unregulated and depends on ethical behavior by those doing the leasing. Carlson started going door-to-door in central Texas, with a totally one-sided, form lease and used tactics to strip landowners’ water rights that many describe as intimidating and bullying.

Unfortunately for Carlson, violating parole imposed under his plea deal does get a judge’s attention. When Carlson wound up back in the pokey in 2004, Ross Cummings of Austin-based Blue Water Systems bailed him out for a “mere” $500,000—which he leveraged into just enough control over Carlson’s water leases to support Blue Water’s massive groundwater permits from the local groundwater district.

Without Carlson’s leases to support what became the Vista Ridge permit, there would be no Vista Ridge water supply for San Antonio, and SAWS knows this.

The rub for SAWS is that Carlson retains significant rights to profit from the leases, and doesn’t mind suing to get them. He is still very much in the picture, mostly as a thorn in the side of not only his own partners but also SAWS. As with most thorns, he refuses to be ignored and has filed at least one lawsuit against Blue Water and the Vista Ridge project company for alleged failure to pay him his due – tens of millions of dollars. You might call that profiteering – or he might just a have good case!

When the lawsuit was settled just in time for the official closing of the Vista Ridge contract in 2016, some observers surmised the settlement was a sham to keep Vista Ridge alive at a critical time. This viewpoint was vindicated when his Vista Ridge partners sued him again shortly after closing, because he allegedly failed to live up to their “settlement”. SAWS remains publicly deaf, dumb and blind to this embarrassing back story.

Blue Water currently has other problems in the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District that issued Vista Ridge’s permits. Paul Terrill, counsel to Blue Water, has twice failed to convince the District it owes Vista Ridge yet another favor from the District, most recently just three weeks ago. The project’s production permit expires in 2044, but the transport permit to move water to San Antonio expires in 2034. The District’s Board correctly decided it had no obligation to extend the transport permit 17 years in advance.

The mismatched permit terms obviously should be a problem now for both SAWS and the project lenders.

To satisfy SAWS and avoid cratering the project, the contract was amended at the last minute before the 2016 closing to impose payment of a huge monetary penalty to SAWS just prior to the 2034 expiration. Some say this gratuitous accommodation by SAWS now – to waive the prudent requirement of matched permits prior to closing – is just another sign of SAWS’ desperation to save the turkey known as Vista Ridge.

Most domestic banks would likely balk at providing project financing beyond 2034. However, Terrill assured the District that Vista Ridge’s (foreign) lenders are committed to fully financing the project to sidestep the obvious question of why the rush to extend the transport permit 17 years prior to expiration.

Are the foreign banks involved in Vista Ridge actually so desperate for any U. S. currency deal that they have financed Vista Ridge through 2044, or are they likely to be demanding to be paid back by 2034? The latter would increase Vista Ridge’s cost of capital and in turn, significantly reduce its profit margin. This would be enough to incentivize Blue Water to demand that Post Oak solve all its problems. While there was a time when the Post Oak board would have done just that, that board is acting much more responsibly today.

I personally spoke to the SAWS Board at their October meeting. I told them about Carlson and Cummings’ second failed attempt to get the Post Oak District to match their permits. We had hoped that at least the Express News would print something about it. They didn’t. We then submitted an Op-Ed to the Express News. We were asked for backup on our allegations about Carlson’s sticky fingers and his leasing tactics. We referenced an excellent investigative article by journalist Joseph Stroud printed in the Express News in 2006! We were told the Express News archives contain no reference to the story, which we ourselves verified is missing. Where did it go? Thank goodness Stroud’s article was saved on an old anti-TransTexas Corridor website.

SAWS often touts the “3400 leases supporting Vista Ridge” as demonstrating overwhelming local support for the project. I also told the SAWS Board at its October meeting that it is not lost on any of us country bumpkins the number turns out to be only about 750.

No one I know really believes anything SAWS or any Vista Ridge partner says at this point. And neither should the good people of San Antonio.

Please – San Antonians – join with your friends in rural Texas to put a stop to Vista Ridge.

Call Mayor Nirenberg and your council members to demand that SAWS back up every claim and open up the Vista Ridge records for independent review.

Vista Ridge is a crime against nature.

Don’t let this happen to us or you, or to any of God’s gifts to us for our future survival. A gift should be stewarded, not squandered.

We look forward to hearing from you – now get on those phones, please!

Call San Antonio City Hall to ask for the Mayor and your council member at 210.207.7040.

Linda Curtis is co-founder of Independent Texans, a political action committee for non-aligned voters, in 2001 following the demise of the Reform Party led by Ross Perot. Curtis lives in Bastrop, which shares the aquifer targeted for Vista Ridge pumping.

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