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developments could not exist. The LCRA responded by engaging opponents, listening to their complaints, forming committees, funding studies, and building consensus, then going ahead and doing pretty much what the agency was going to do in the first place. Christy Muse learned the hard way how formidable the LCRA can be. It started one spring day in 2004 when the lanky, honey-haired mother of two was having a taco at Bee Creek B-B-Q on Highway 71, 19 miles west of downtown Austin. Muse and the taco vendor gazed across the highway at the hillside view both had come to know and love. “It’s that point on 71 with the incredible vista, the one place with magnificent color in the fall,” she said. As they took in the view, the taco guy told her a surveyor had said 3,000 homes were going to be built on that ranch. “Neither of us could believe it,” she said. “It’s an unincorporated area. There’s no water, no wastewater. So I went home that evening and started learning everything I could about that property and about water service in unincorporated areas. I immersed myself in why anyone could put 3,200 homes on that land with no infrastructure or services. The LCRA was one of my starting points. I figured there had to be some water service coming that way in order to facilitate a project like that. But everybody I talked to at LCRA said, `No, we don’t have any plans to bring water down Highway 71: Everybody said they had no idea what I was talking about” Simultaneously, Lick Creek in western Travis Country, polluted by construction of a pond for the new West cypress Hills subdivision, had sparked an outcry from residents, as had a proposed water line to Hamilton Pool Road, where a new development subsequently fouled the waters of the once-pristine Hamilton Pool. “Not long after that there was this big public meeting at Dripping Springs High School hosted by LCRA,” Muse recalled. “They were taking comments about the Hamilton Pool Road waterline. The day of that meeting, I got a call from the LCRA, I think from [Robert] Cullick. He said, ‘I understand you have been calling about Highway 71. We want you to know that we do have some plans to bring water down the highway. I went to the meeting in Dripping Springs and said, ‘You guys are freaking out about Hamilton Pool Road; no one’s talking about Highway 71. This isn’t just Hamilton Pool Road. This is a big water expansion plan: I met so many people at the meeting, and my phone rang all the next day. Everybody who was dealing with those issues all the way to Highway 290 started talking and sharing.” Several months later, Muse hosted a community meeting at her home, drawing angry residents of Travis, Hays, and Blanco counties. By the end of the meeting, the Hill Country Alliance had formed. “We could fight these fights individually,” Muse said, “or we could come together, form a group, and try to get a proactive plan.” The LCRA reacted by postponing construction and launching a study, bringing together stakeholders with an interest in the pipeline. At the same time, the agency funded another group of interested parties to put together a Regional Water Quality Protection Plan. Hamilton Pool Road residents set up the Western Travis County Growth Dialog. For most of 2005, the three study groups worked on building consensus around growth issues. Following the studies, the LCRA began constructing the water pipelines. “It’s not LCRA that’s causing a new Kerrville to get built in this three-county area every single year:’ Beal said. “That’s not LCRA making that happen. That’s just what is happening. It’s economically driven. It’s environmentally driven. LCRNs job is to provide infrastructure. And when you provide infrastructure and do it efficiently, you don’t do something that is only going to have capacity for the next two or three years. You build something with 20-year capacity, a 30-year capacity, 100-year capacity. That’s how you efficiently build infrastructure. We are an infrastructure provider. That’s what we were created to be, and be a steward of the river and of the environment. “We have tried to walk the fine line of doing our job to be an infrastructure provider, but at the same time using our governmental capability to do what we can do to protect the environment from the growth that is going to happen:’ he said. “I’ve always considered myself to be a staunch environmentalist, and people will laugh at that if you print that because of what I’ve done in my career. But I am. I’ve made a difference at LCRA.” Beal went public with his change of heart on his way out the door, speaking at a Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon last September. He called for the Legislature to give counties more zoning authority, something builders and developers have historically opposed. The speech did not go unnoticed. “I like to think we had something to do with that:’ Muse said. She recalled a different Joe Beal during her last meeting with him. “We agreed the Legislature needs to give counties more control, and he said he would introduce me to lobbyist Rusty Kelley.” But a change of heart was not enough as far as she was concerned. “When they built the pipelines, they could have passed a resolution acknowledging the need for land use controls then. That could have had significant influence on the Legislature. How could they deny land use controls when the LCRA says we need it? But they didn’t. They’re good with getting the input. They just don’t do anything with the input.” In January, Tom Mason began his new job as general manager of the LCRA. His slight physique and lean runner’s build, along with his trimmed red beard and wire-rimmed glasses, were quite a contrast to Joe Bears good ol’ boy persona that went right down to his full-quill ostrich cowboy boots. Yet Mason echoed Beal: We don’t get to choose [whom we sell water to] as long as we have raw water to sell. That’s a big reason we were created, to sell that water supply. We have to do that on a nondiscriminatory basis.” In other words, Mason would not be the green knight to save the agency from itself. “There’s been a drumbeat that LCRA has a pro-development agenda,” said Cullick, the LCRA spokesman. “If you see it through that window, because of that battleground, then you FEBRUARY 8, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11