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Boom draws concerns over water, other issues at hearing

April 30, 2013

Austin attorney Charles R. Kimbrough addresses those attending a hearing Monday on proposed regulations to deal with the growing oil boom in Howard County. (HERALD photo/Steve Reagan)

Water seemed to be the topic of choice Monday morning, as the Howard County commissioners court held a public hearing on a number of proposed regulations designed to address the housing boom in the county created by the ongoing boom in the oil field.

While no one spoke against the changes, concerns regarding a regulation that would have any operator of a RV or mobile home park serving more than 14 water users designated as a public water source drew questions from several people in the audience.

According to attorney Charles R. Kimbrough with Austin-based Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, the county's approach to these types of regulations is very different from the way municipalities are allowed to make regulations.

“Not having these types of laws on the books in the past makes this a very significant step for the county,” Kimbrough said. “It's important to remember Howard County is a county. It's not a city or municipality, which has the full power of self government. A city can basically do anything that does not violate state law. A county, on the other hand, can only regulate matters that are specifically authorized by the state's legislature.

“With these water issues, the county has a limited ability to regulate water issues. Those are governed by the local water conservation district and other bodies. In these cases, the county would have to report these types of issues to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and turn it over to them.”

One Howard County man expressed his desire to see the laws between RV parks and mobile home units more divided, saying the two have very different concerns.

Howard County Librarian Hollis McCright also asked several questions regarding the proposed regulations.

“I live next door to where an RV park is being constructed,” McCright said. “Do these regulations call for any kind of fence around the property? I would think trash being caught by the high winds would be a concern. Also, what are the regulations on noise?”

According to Kimbrough, the regulations do not currently call for fencing around RV parks and nuisances such as noise or animals at large would be addressed in the same way they are now — by law enforcement.

Before retiring into an executive session aimed at allowing the commissioners court to discuss the questions posed during the public hearing, County Judge Mark Barr told the audience the proposed regulations aren't meant to stop entrepreneurship in Howard County.

“We're not trying to tie anyones hands so they can't make money. That's not what we're trying to do with these regulations,” Barr said. “We just have to make sure we protect our current homeowners and their interests so this housing boom doesn't hurt Howard County instead of helping it. We have to approach this intelligently.”

According to Barr, the commissioners court will likely consider the regulations in the next 30 days, giving area residents and homeowners a chance to once again share their concerns.

“This is a situation where we need as much input from the people as possible,” he said. “We want them to come to these meetings and let us know what their concerns are. That way we can try to address them and try to make these regulations work toward everyone's best interest.”

Barr said the county is already seeing a staggering growth in these types of housing projects, which include RV and trailer parks.

“Just during our last regularly scheduled meeting, we had six requests for septic permits for these types of properties,” Barr said. “It's not a matter of 'if they come' at this point. The oil business is coming and there are plenty of people out in the county who are looking to capitalize on it.”

As the supply for housing in the oil field continues to grow, so does the demand, according to Barr.

“They fill them up just as soon as they get them open,” he said. “It's certainly not slowing down. If anything, it's picking up speed. Right now, it's anyone's guess what the total demand is going to look like once this boom gets into full swing. We'll just have to wait and see.”

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