Friday, September 17, 2021

Bartonville water tower mired in legal limbo

Construction on the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation’s (CTWSC) elevated, 155-foot tall water tower in the Town of Bartonville is still on-hold since the public water utility’s first building permit application back in August 2010.

“There are a lot of intertwining issues around this situation,” said CTWSC President Patrick McDonald. “There are two ongoing law suits that, while separate, are both tied to each other.”

On April 21, the Bartonville Town Council agreed to a settlement with CTWSC over the construction of the water tower to end a three-year legal battle between the town and utility company.

According to the proposed agreement, CTWSC will submit a new application to the town for a building permit and will make a one-time payment of up to $350,000 to reimburse the town for its legal fees and indemnify the town against all future claims and liabilities arising out of the two related lawsuits.

The terms of the agreement are conditional upon the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) by the town for completion of the water tower.  

On May 16, Judge Doug Robison, who presides over the case now in the 393rd District Court in Denton, denied a motion to tear down the partially-built water tower, which is located next to the Bartonville home of former U.S. Congressman Dick Armey and his wife, Susan.

Back in December 2012, the Armeys, Jane and Brad Teel, Krystal and Richard Vera, along with the Bar RR Ranch owners, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and his wife, Renda, filed a civil lawsuit against CTSWC. In 2013, the Tillersons and Teels dropped out of the lawsuit and court records show that only the Armeys and Veras remain as plaintiffs in the case.

But after the Bartonville Town Council settled its own long-running battle over the tower in April, Armey added the town to his lawsuit.

His latest petition has two causes of action — one for illegal contract zoning, as provided for in the town’s settlement agreement with the water supplier, and another for open meetings violations. The open meetings violations came, the petition alleges, when several Town Council members — enough to make a quorum — discussed the settlement among themselves, with members of the water supply corporation and with another Bartonville resident. Upset over the judge’s denial of his motion, Armey said he’s considering appealing the ruling.

Robison also ordered the attorneys for the plaintiffs, the town and the water supplier to bring forward a motion to consolidate the cases soon. The trial, which Robison said he expected to last two weeks, has been scheduled for April 6 next year.

Bartonville’s Town Attorney Robert Hager also appeared in court on May 16 and told Robison he wanted the court to know that the water supplier had made a new permit application to the town’s P&Z Commission, which he expects to be heard in the next 60 days.

During its May 20 meeting, the Bartonville Town Council unanimously approved authorizing the Town Attorney to have an engineering study conducted on the proposed elevated water tower for the needed zoning change and Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application submitted by CTWSC.

“We started all over again in April with a new CUP permit application with the P&Z Commission, following the proposed settlement agreement with the town council,” said McDonald.

Hopefully, this new process will put to rest the previous lawsuit trail from district court to 4th Court of Appeals and back to district court history over the past three years. The underlying reason the Bartonville site is crucial for the area is purely scientific—elevation.

“The site was chosen because of its height to match that of the Double Oak tower and it’s distance from the lake being the farthest for the system—plus the ability to connect to the Upper Trinity 54-inch [supply] line,” said McDonald. “We need to consider the needs of all the communities in our area of service. Even though only 16 percent of our customers live in Bartonville, it has 38 percent of the total open land—woods, pastures and grass acreage—with a high-fire potential, so it has 24 percent of our current 350 hydrants.”

He pointed out that as a retail water utility, CTWSC is exempted to provide a certain volume of water for fire protection by state law.

“We feel the need to provide that service, because we live here, too,” said McDonald. “We’ve been very lucky that we haven’t had any fires, but our open-space acreage is why we have a multiple-site fire department. We haven’t had a Possum Kingdom Lake fire event, but it’s better to plan for it before it happens, than to wish action had happened afterwards.”

The Bartonville water tower represents an example of the adage: “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”

It will be up to the town’s P&Z Commission to determine the next step in the journey.


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