SJRA Lawsuit against City of Conroe Dismissed
On Tuesday a Montgomery County District Court dismissed the San Jacinto River Authority’s lawsuit against the City of Conroe to collect the increased fees for water SJRA requires Conroe to take from its Lake Conroe treatment plant. Starting in 2016, the Conroe City Council protested SJRA’s increase in fees and declined to pay the increase. Conroe’s Council stated at that time that SJRA’s fee increase was not allowed under the City’s contract with SJRA. Since 2016, Conroe’s Council has renewed its protest each time SJRA again increased its fees and the City has refused to pay the increases.
In 2016, SJRA sued Conroe in Travis County to request court approval of its fee increases, but earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that request improper. SJRA immediately filed a similar lawsuit in Montgomery County, but on Tuesday the visiting Senior District Judge assigned to hear that suit ruled that Conroe is immune from SJRA’s suit. The Judge ordered SJRA’s suit dismissed.
Conroe Mayor Toby Powell said the City is acting to protect its water customers, both now and in the future. In 2016 the City Council first asked SJRA to delay its fee increases and meet with City personnel to try to negotiate reasonable water fees, but SJRA refused. SJRA also refused to participate in mediation with Conroe before suing the City. The City believes there are several ways in which SJRA could reduce its expenditures to keep fees lower. Mayor Powell said that SJRA “needs to tighten its belt and stop spending whatever it wants and then simply add those expenditures into its rate base.” Unlike the Conroe City Council, SJRA’s Board of Directors does not have to answer to local voters.
This victory in Court is the fourth for the City in its ongoing disputes over the cost of its water supplies. The City was successful in having declared unlawful the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District’s regulations that required the City to reduce its groundwater pumping by 30 percent and make up the difference by purchasing SJRA’s more expensive Lake Conroe water. Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District settled a second lawsuit by the City by withdrawing its arbitrary low cap on groundwater production in Montgomery County. Third, the City was successful in the Supreme Court of Texas by having most of SJRA’s Travis County suit dismissed. All that now remains in that suit is SJRA’s request for the Travis County Court to declare that SJRA properly executed the contract with the City, which is something the City has never challenged. And then on Tuesday, the City obtained dismissal of SJRA’s Montgomery County lawsuit against it.
The City Council hopes SJRA’s Board of Directors will choose not to appeal yesterday’s ruling so this ongoing litigation may come to an end.