U.S. Water News Online
LUBBOCK, Texas — The U.S. Department of Justice is blocking changes to Texas law that helped create a Panhandle water district dominated by employees of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a newspaper reports.
The changes approved last session in the state House and Senate allowed property owners in a freshwater district, even if they don't live there, to serve on the board. Previous law required board supervisors be registered, resident voters.
That change allowed three Pickens employees to serve as supervisors of a Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District, which was created over land owned by Pickens.
The decision by the Justice Department appears to make the three supervisors ineligible, though state officials said the impact to the present board wasn't clear.
Jay Rosser, spokesman for Pickens Mesa Water, said the district could find new, eligible supervisors, if necessary.
"That's certainly an option, and it would be a relatively easy fix," Rosser said. "The important thing is that it did nothing to challenge the creation or existence of that district."
The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department wrote in a letter that Texas failed to prove that the changes to the law did not harm minority voting rights. A department objection carries the same weight as an injunction from a federal court, making the law unenforceable.
But Rosser told the newspaper the decision as they understood it did little to change the board or plans to move water and wind energy resources out of the Panhandle and into the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Pickens' Mesa Water and Mesa Power joined with the district to pursue right of way between the remote resources and customers in Dallas and Fort Worth. The district gave Pickens access to eminent domain, a government's power to compel the sale of private property for public use.
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