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Opponents outnumber supporters at Marvin Nichols forum

In Mount Pleasant on Apr. 29, over 400 people attended an Apr. 29 public forum on Marvin Nichols Reservoir proposal hosted by the Texas Water Development Board.

The Texas Water Development Board’s public comment period on the Marvin Nichols Reservoir proposal continues through 5 p.m. Friday. The agency is receiving written comment by email (RegionCandD@twdb.texas.gov) and mail (Office of General Counsel, Attn: Connie Sanders, 1700 North Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701).

Audio transcript

Haslett: The projected future water needs of Dallas and its sprawling suburbs are making for some tough choices for Texans far beyond the Metroplex. A proposed reservoir in Northeast Texas would give the Dallas area a significant new source of water for decades to come. But some say the social, environmental and economic costs of the reservoir would be devastating for a part of the state that’s already struggling to get by. Marvin Nichols Reservoir would be located along the Sulphur River valley. The site is north of Mount Pleasant, about an hour west of Texarkana. It’s a quiet corner of Texas – the type of place where a terrapin crossing the highway has a pretty good chance of making it across. Since the cotton boom faded decades ago this little jigsaw-puzzle patch of counties has gotten by mainly on ranching and timber. Gary Cheatwood has known these thickets and prairies all his life.

Cheatwood: And that right there at one time was the state champion Nutmeg Hickory, til I found one bigger that’s the national champion, that’s down on the Sulphur River. And Nutmegs are kind of rare.

Haslett: Cheatwood has an encyclopedic knowledge of the trees here. He can show you which ones are the biggest of their kind in Texas or the country. This bottom land is full of towering trees.

Cheatwood: Anyway, this author of this book on trees, he says that Nutmeg Hickory are isolated and rare in this area. And there’s probably more of them here on the Sulphur River than anywhere else, anywhere.

Haslett: Cheatwood is one of the landowners who says he’d lose out if the project were built. Marvin Nichols Reservoir would flood about 72,000 acres. About 30,000 of those acres are bottomland hardwood forest – valued by environmentalists for habitat, valued by the timber industry as raw material. One Northeast Texas timber company took the Texas Water Development Board to court over the proposed reservoir.  Company owner Bill Ward was one of about 400 people present at a public forum on the topic in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday.

Ward: But as I reflect on the people who have spoken here today about losing their homes and their farm places - across our whole country, people are tired of the government taking land -

Haslett: Ward Timber, based in Linden, claimed that the state agency had to decide whether Marvin Nichols would remain in regional water plans. The Northeast Texas planning group opposes the project, while the planning group that includes Dallas-Fort Worth identifies Marvin Nichols as a future option. Last year, an appellate court ruled that the Texas Water Development Board must resolve the conflict between the two regions. At Tuesday’s forum, Northeast Texas planning group chairman Bret McCoy said that he’s opposed the project from the first time it crossed his desk.

McCoy: My lasting impression of that meeting was the fact that farmers, ranchers and environmentalists were all on the same page, in opposition to this project. Most of us know this is very unusual and should confirm to you what was confirmed to me – something is wrong.

Haslett: Those who spoke in favor of the reservoir included some municipal elected officials from the area – including the mayors of Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon as well as Clarksville mayor Ann Rushing, a former member of the regional planning group.

Rushing: To remove the Marvin Nichols Reservoir from the state plan would not be an example of responsible water planning and would not be in the best interests in Clarksville, the region and the State of Texas. In the case of the city of Clarksville, a city that I have been mayor of for the past 14 years, it is critical that Marvin Nichols be included in the state water plan. By the year 2030, Clarksville will not be able to depend on Langford Lake as a water source. We need options. We need our planning group to be responsible water planners. Thank you for allowing me a few moments to speak.

Haslett: Several speakers pointed out the possible loss of not just of the land at the reservoir site, but also those acres of timber which would be taken out of production as part of a complicated environmental mitigation process. Executives from the timber industry predicted the closure of businesses and the collapse of the region’s economy. Meanwhile, predictions about the future water situation in Dallas are equally dire. Planners from the North Texas region say Marvin Nichols must be left as an option to meet projected demand for the booming metro area. Northeast Texas planners say an equivalent amount of water can be supplied by impounding more water at Lake Wright Patman, near Texarkana, and using other sources. The Texas Water Development Board’s public process continued with a forum in Arlington on Wednesday. The agency will receive written comment on the Marvin Nichols reservoir proposal through close of business on Friday. After then, the three-member governing body of the water board is expected to announce a final decision. No timetable has been set. Like any new reservoir, the project would have to go through a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permitting process before being built. It would also have to secure federal approval. Last year, the TCEQ gave the green light to Lake Ralph Hall in Fannin County. It was the first permit for a new reservoir granted by the agency since 1985. Reporting from Commerce, Texas, this is Mark Haslett.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.
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