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Youth camp permit critics’ concerns grow

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With state regulators still deliberating whether to grant a more detailed review of a Christian youth camp’s request for a wastewater permit in the Tarpley area, critics of the permit are turning their attention to the camp’s proposed water use permit that they contend is wasteful and contrary to state rules.

The water use permit application for the youth camp being constructed by a corporation known as RR 417 LLC and its owner Sam Torn would allow groundwater from wells to be used to keep two lakes at the camp full at all times by claiming an agricultural use for the water that is not legitimate, said Margo Denke, the founder and treasurer for the Friends of Hondo Canyon, landowners and residents in the Tarpley who have banded together to challenge permits sought by the camp that they feel are environmentally unsound.

She said using groundwater for an impoundment like the lakes is considered wasteful under Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations, and the proposed use of the water claimed by the applicants dries not qualify as an agricultural use.

Developers need the agricultural use designation to override pumping restrictions established by the Bandera County Groundwater District and River Authority to protect the aquifer from excessive drawdown during droughts, she added.

The company’s application for the permit said some of the water pumped from the wells would be used to irrigate playing fields for the youngsters at the camp, Denke said. She said that is clearly outside the state’s definition for an agricultural use.

“Drought is common in Texas, and the current permit is a license to waste water and negatively impact the reliability of our wells,” said Friends of Hondo Canyon Vice President Brenda Saunders in a news release.

Torn disputed the critics’ claims, saying the groundwater that is sought through the permits would be stored in reservoirs that are intended for recreational and agricultural uses, “both of which are recognized beneficial uses under the regulations and the law”

‘We are confident that our permit application falls within permitted uses,” he said.

Torn also said he and his development team are convinced the leadership of the Friends of Hondo Canyon “are dead set against the camp becoming operational for whatever reason” as evidenced by the leadership’s unwillingness to consider a proposed modification in the proposed wastewater treatment permit that would have addressed most and potentially all of the concerns critics had raised.

‘We have acted reasonably and have bent over backwards to be sensitive to the issues raised by some members of the community because it is our intent to be a sensitive, contributing member of the region for years to come,” said Torn.

He also said his company will respond “to any and all protests through the appropriate channels” and is confident the water permit will be approved so the camp, which promises to have a huge economic impact on the county, can move forward.

Critics, who also raised environmental challenges to the camp’s wastewater permit, are hustling to get their comments to the TCEQ with the hopes of getting a public meeting and eventually a contested case hearing scheduled on the water use permit.

RR 417 published a notice of its application for the water use permit in the Bander Bulletin on March 4, and the public was given 30 days to comment on the permit before a draft permit could move forward for review

The Friends group are urging supporters to submit comments and complaints about the water rights permit to the state either by mail or online by April 3.

It has scheduled workshops to inform the public about the permit and the rules governing it and to assist anyone who wants to let the commission know what he or she thinks about the proposal.

The first workshop was held last Saturday, March 14, and the last one will be Saturday, March 21, at the Anton Center in Tarpley from 2-4 p.m. The center is at 25 Valentine Lane.