LCRA lifts dredging moratorium, expands regulations

By a vote of 8-6 on Nov. 17, the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors lifted a months-long moratorium on dredging the Highland Lakes. File photo

Posted on November 22, 2021

By a vote of 8-6, the Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors lifted a months-long moratorium Nov. 17 on dredging the Highland Lakes, while also approving a newly-creating dredging ordinance that expands regulations for commercial operators.

The nearly 40-page document adds a Tier III component for dredging activities which specifically addresses commercial dredging.

Prior to their decision at a regular meeting conducted at LCRA headquarters in Austin, board members and staff reviewed about 250 public comments, collected since August, on the proposed ordinance.

“The vast majority are against the ordinance but there are some for it,” LCRA executive director Phil Wilson said during the meeting. “There’s no one that loves these Highland Lakes more than I do.

“They are very special and want to protect them,” he added. “Obviously our number one goal on this board is water quality.”

Dozens of people attended the meeting and spoke during citizens comments, including a representative of 21 real estate entities in the Llano County area.

“We ask that you put a permanent moratorium on tier III dredging,” said Andy Virdell of Landmasters Real Estate, who also serves on the board of Kingsland Chamber of Commerce.

The new ordinance involved moving all dredging requirements, currently found in the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance, to a new Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance.

The LCRA Board also included an updated fee schedule.

During the LCRA staff presentation, officials summarized the main changes, updates and expanded requirements in a three tier system.

Tier I dredging addressed residential operations which require no permit but notification to the entity.

New standards for all three tiers include:

• Invasive species monitoring requirements;

• Limits for proximity to infrastructure;

• LCRA determines order of permits; and

• Inclusion of adherence to local governmental policy and judicial decision.

In Tier II, two additional standards are:

• Reduction of turbidity and monitoring plan; and

• Development of an emergency operations plan, including flood events.

In Tier III, commercial permit holders must adhere to rules which regulate:

• Proximity to utility structures;

• Plans for buoys, signs, lighting and limited hours of operation (weekdays and day time hours);

• Turbidity monitoring related to a sediment screening plan and a related response plan;

• Prohibition of removal of native soil;

• Protections of findings involving artifacts;

• Prohibition of an increase of the storage of the lake beyond what LCRA allows;

• A cleanup spill plan; and

• No other negative impacts or no threat to public safety, including cumulative impacts.

Existing public notification protocols also apply in the new ordinance.

Terms for permits are up to three years for the initial approval and two-year terms for renewals.

The fee schedule includes re-inspection fees of $100 for tier II permits involving multiple visits.

During the staff presentation LCRA Vice President of Water John Hofmann answered questions from the board about the motivation behind presenting the new ordinance.

“What we saw very quickly is the way we’ve been regulating dredging for many years was not going to be adequate for what we’re seeing today,” Hofmann said.

The ordinance goes into effect in January.

Also, permit revocation, which can involve stop-work orders, may involve fines of up to $10,000 per day violation in a court-ordered process.

The decision by the board comes on the heels of a Feb. 24 moratorium prompted by citizen complaints in the Kingsland area on the Llano arm of Lake LBJ.

Collier Materials proposed a commercial sand plant dredging operation adjacent to the Comanche Rancheria community to remove sediment from the waterway. Collier’s permit application was put on hold pending the decision of the LCRA Board.

Residents expressed concerns about truck traffic, industrial equipment including barges and sand plant operations, excess noise, lighting and potential water quality issues.

Collier officials maintained they would remove excess sediment from the waterway to improve the storage capacity, sell the product for construction and related use and create jobs.

After the meeting, TRAM (Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining) member Fermin Ortiz offered his take on the board’s decision.

“We had 49 people at LCRA’s meeting today … The good thing is LCRA director said unlike any other agency’s approach to the APO (aggregate production operations) industry, his staff will do their job of protecting the lakes from violations.

“The ordinance does allow for the pulling of the permit for violations that aren’t immediately corrected.”

The regulations go into effect Jan. 1.

“There’s no one that loves these Highland Lakes more than I do… our number one goal on this board is water quality.”

— Phil Wilson LCRA Executive Director

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