Suppose you and your wife were looking for a peaceful, rustic area in which to buy property and build a home? If you were serious about spending your life in a rural environment, surrounded by trees, shrubs, babbling brooks and all the other symbols of serenity, you’d surely do your homework and research before making a large investment of money, and an even larger investment in your comfort and security.
Suppose further that you were diligent in all of the above, receiving assurances from a water company that they would not destroy the landscape and its environs by erecting a monstrous tower adjacent to the property you were about to purchase? How would you feel if you went through all of that, only to discover that you were deceived when you saw the tower being built right next to your property? Well, that’s the genesis of a lawsuit filed by Dick Armey and a couple of other concerned residents of Bartonville, a southern Denton County town with a population of about 1,600.
Mr. Armey, the former U.S. House Majority Leader famous for his conservative stand on taxes and his many battles with liberal legislators and Washington policymakers, and who, along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, sponsored the “Contract with America” in 1994, is facing a different type of battle to keep his beautiful town from being changed into something he says residents won’t recognize and didn’t bargain for when they moved there.
At issue is a 160 foot water tower being built by Cross Timbers Water Supply Corp. (CTWSC), formerly known as Bartonville Water Supply Corp. According to Mr. Armey, he spoke with the general manager of the water company before he and his wife decided to make a home in the town several years ago. He says they were told without equivocation that the company would build a low-rise water tower that would be blocked from view by the heavily treed area.
Before the water tower could be finished, the lawsuit was filed and construction was stopped. The plaintiffs say the 750,000-gallon tower is a nuisance and accuse the company of making false representations in their promises to build ground level tanks. Additionally, the suit contends that the construction would create a constant and unbearable nuisance to those that live next to it. It goes on to proclaim that the plaintiffs bought their homes so they could live in an “upscale community free of industrial properties, tall buildings and other structures that might devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.” Moreover, the suit alleges that the water from the tower would be sold to oil and gas drilling companies and used for fracking (hydraulic fracturing), ultimately bringing heavy truck traffic along FM 407, which would create a noise nuisance and traffic hazards.
The town of Bartonville initially denied the permit to build the tower because of its height. However, the water company sued the city and was granted a building permit by the court, which ruled that the Texas State Water Code gives broad authority to water districts that trumps city zoning restrictions, according to an attorney for the CTWSC. The town appealed the ruling, bringing construction to a halt.
CTWSC alleges that the tower is required as a safety issue in order to supply enough water pressure for the needs of firefighters and to provide enough water to service their customers. Those claims are disputed by Armey and others who say they are merely scare tactics with no sound engineering studies or fire department statistics to back them up. Furthermore, one engineer concluded that: “It appears all of the problems CTWSC claims can only be addressed by an elevated storage tank, can in fact be adequately and cost-effectively resolved with ground storage tanks, increased line sizes and pressure pumps.”
Also, Armey says the water company has implied that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has approved the construction of their water tower. In fact, according to Armey, TCEQ has no authority except to say that the plans and specs for building a tower are sufficient. The only authority who can approve or disapprove the tower’s location is the Town of Bartonville, and they must abide by their own ordinances in doing so, he added.
Nevertheless, the imbroglio may have become even more complicated after last Monday’s special council meeting in which the town, in a 3-2 vote, agreed to a settlement with CTWSC to end the three years of litigation. The deal states that the company will pay the town about $350,000 to reimburse them for legal fees and provide immunity for the town in any future litigation that may arise from the lawsuits. The deal is contingent upon the council’s issuance of a Conditional Use Permit, allowing the completion of the tower.
The election on May 10 could illustrate the way voters feel about this controversial issue. With a mayor and two council seats being decided, this may be far from over. Dick Armey agrees. “The more you learn about this, the more you realize that there is something terribly wrong with this water company. And the more you have to wonder why three-fifths of the town council would ignore overwhelming evidence and accommodate them at the cost of the town’s right to enforce its ordinances. At some time the full truth will be known and this town council will realize the awful final costs they bear for having made a backroom deal.”
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.