New LSGCD board votes to dismiss legal counsel in January, revisit settlement agreement in lawsuit against Conroe

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The newly elected board of directors for the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District made its first major action on groundwater regulations at the LSGCD meeting Dec. 11.

After a closed executive session the board of directors unanimously agreed to host a special session 2 p.m. Dec. 18 to discuss a potential settlement in the lawsuit between the city of Conroe and the LSGCD over water usage. Board Vice President Harry Hardman made the motion to review the settlement agreement and move toward a conclusion to the lawsuit.

“That would give the new board the opportunity to understand what’s been on the table from a negotiation perspective with the plaintiffs and what we can do to arrive a fair and expeditious conclusion to this debacle,” Hardman said.

Furthermore the board also approved in a 4-1 vote—with board member Place 7 Larry Rogers voting against—that the district dismiss its current legal counsel, SledgeLaw Group PLLC, in January following the conclusion of the lawsuit, as well as hire Stacey Reese Law PLLC, a business and water litigation firm. The motion also included dismissal of the firm contracted to represent the district’s lawsuit, Martin, Earl & Stilwell LLP, and hire Johnson Petrov LLP as alternative counsel.

The conflict between the city of Conroe the LSGCD first began when the LSGCD board of directors adopted a long-term planning mandate in 2006 requiring all large-volume groundwater users—such as Conroe—to reduce their groundwater use countywide to 70 percent of their 2009 totals by January 2016, LSGCD officials said. Officials said the reductions were designed to manage local groundwater aquifers more sustainably.

In August 2015 the city of Conroe and seven other utility stakeholders filed a lawsuit against the district opposing the rate increase and its groundwater regulations for large-volume users.

LSGCD General Manager Kathy Turner Jones said attorneys for the district and plaintiffs in the lawsuit were negotiating terms—which are confidential until agreed upon—for a settlement agreement in late 2017 and early 2018.

“We were very close on several points into that agreement, and it just kind of ceased. … So what this board would like to do is for our legal counsel to bring back those settlement discussions and see exactly where we were on it,” Jones said. “They need to see what all their options are. Having not been apprised in the negotiations because of the confidentiality of it, they want to know what those terms are, whether it’s something that’s still viable, and just really look at all their options.”

Then, on Sept. 18 visiting Judge Lamar McCorkle ruled the district did not have legal authority to force large-volume groundwater users to reduce how much groundwater they use annually. The LSGCD filed an appeal to the ruling Nov. 7, according to LSGCD board minutes. 

But the Nov. 6 midterm elections brought the first opportunity for Montgomery County residents to elect LSGCD board members, and board President Webb Melder—who is the former mayor of Conroe—said the previous board should not have filed for a court appeal because the newly elected board was to take office shortly after.

“The day after the Nov. 6 election, the previous board—instead of filing for an extension—filed an appeal regarding the judge’s ruling against the district’s rules,” Melder said. “This should have been the newly elected board’s decision.”

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Kelly Schafler
Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.
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