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November 23, 1999     (512) 463-0300

SENATE NATURAL RESOURCES MEETS IN VICTORIA

VICTORIA - The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a well-attended public hearing at the Victoria Community Center Annex on Monday, November 22, 1999. The committee plans to hold public hearings around the state to hear from citizens about the various charges assigned to the committee by Lt. Governor Rick Perry for study this interim. The committee heard invited and public testimony relating to five of the eight charges issued for study.

The hearing began with testimony from representatives of the oil and gas industry discussing the future of that industry. The committee is to identify impediments to exploration and production, and examine the need for incentives to assist producers for the expected increase in natural gas demand. Testimony included remarks from Gene Montgomery representing Altura. Public testimony was received from Walter Light, an independent geologist of Houston.

The committee is charged with investigating the opportunities and challenges facing the Texas coastal region. The region is expected to experience significant population growth and economic development in the future. The committee is seeking strategies to ensure progress without diminishing the quality of life and natural resources. Testimony was received from Andy Sansom, Executive Director of the Texas Park and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Dr. Larry McKinney, also of TPWD, discussed Texas' bays and estuaries, and the status and health of Texas fisheries. Ralph Rayburn, associate professor at Texas A&M University, testified regarding the Texas Sea Grant College Program.

The committee is to conduct a comprehensive study of the state's groundwater resources, including regional approaches to groundwater management, availability, and possible future regulations and the role of groundwater districts. Testimony began with Victoria Mayor Gary Middleton, continued with Haskell Simon, John Burke representing Aqua Water Supply, and Carolyn Brittin of the Texas Water Development Board. Public testimony was delivered by Bob Weiss, Ronald Gertson, and Greg Carter.

Port expansion and growth, including the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 1665, passed during the 76th Legislature, Regular Session was designated for study this interim by Perry. SB 1665 pertains to the authority of certain navigation districts to acquire land, equipment, or improvements and issue bonds. The committee is to study the economic impact of losing cargo to other states due to inadequate port infrastructure, determine how regional port cooperation may ease congestion at ports and cargo exchange terminals, measure the success of state, national, and international efforts to regionalize port planning and expansion. In addition, the committee is examining the powers, both statutory and constitutional, granted to political subdivisions with jurisdiction over ports organized pursuant to Article 16, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution. Testimony was received from Bob Van Borssum, Port Director, Port of Port Lavaca/Point Comfort. Public testimony was heard from Richard Rogan of Seabrook.

Finally, the committee heard testimony regarding the role and missions of all Texas river authority. The committee was directed to study all aspects including powers and duties, financing, fee structures, service areas, board compositions, relations with other river authorities, competition with private sector providers and the communities they serve, and the roles in and contributions to the state's water plan. The committee heard testimony from Bill West, representing the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority and Jack Nelson, representing the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority. Public testimony was heard from Dale Waters.

Additional public testimony was received from Sister Patrice Sharp. representing the Sisters of Incarnate Word, who spoke against the proposed water reservoir in Goliad County. Patsy Light also testified against the reservoir. Tom Mustard testified regarding the Texas Supreme Court ruling relating to land surrounding the ownership of land near the Canadian River in the Panhandle.

Members of the committee include Senators J.E. 'Buster' Brown of Lake Jackson serving as chair, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, serving as vice-chair, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant.

The committee will submit a report of its findings to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January of 2001.

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