By Nathan Straus
Conservation officials said the chances of the Supreme Court of the United States overturning Dallas’ bid to put a reservoir across Cherokee and Anderson counties are still exceptionally low.
A spokesperson for the city of Dallas said consideration of whether the court will hear the case could come as early as Feb. 19.
Co-founder of Friends of the Neches River Michael Banks said he wishes the Supreme Court would hurry along a decision.
“We’re still confident they will rule that they will not hear the case,” Banks said. “Even if they do hear the case, the odds are overwhelming they won’t overturn previous decisions.”
The wildlife refuge was approved in 2006 and, when complete, would occupy much of the same land the reservoir would otherwise use. These two projects cannot co-exist.
Chris Bowers, first assistant city attorney of Dallas, said the city is currently working toward a due date for a reply regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s brief, which has already been submitted.
“We had 10 days to file our reply brief,” Bowers said. “We might seek a short extension. Ours is due roughly a week from Monday.”
Bowers said the court could review the brief some time in February and added he expects the court to consider Dallas’ petition on Feb. 19. He said it’s possible a decision on whether to take the case will be made on the spot, but a decision can be held off until a later date as well.
“If you take a look at the statistics, the odds are against us,” Bowers said. “It depends on the other cases brought to the Supreme Court, too. If it’s a weak year, it helps our case.”
A clear interest in the case on the Supreme Court level exists, Bower said.
He said of the brief filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “We’re going to dispute what the government has said. They stated a few facts, but we think they’re wrong about some parts of the law they pointed out.”
Bowers said though the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in March 2009 in favor of the federal government affirming a lower court decision defending the creation of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge, is consistent with other court rulings, it’s an opinion ruling.
“We said other courts have ruled on similar facts and held views contrary to the Fifth Circuit,” Bowers said.
Banks said the loss of land to Dallas with a Fastrill Reservoir would include private property taken by eminent domain.
“It’s a no-brainer what’s best for East Texas, and that’s not to have the reservoir,” Banks said. “We would never recap that loss.”
He added a wildlife refuge would help the area tremendously by bringing in tourism and the economic development funds associated with purchases made by tourists such as gas, food and motel rooms.
“Land would only be added to the wildlife refuge by purchase or donation, so no land would be taken from landowners,” Banks said.
Dallas officials expect a 27 percent increase in water demand by 2060 and have said 14 additional reservoirs are recommended to meet the needs through 2060. It would cost $569 million to build Lake Fastrill, which would supply 112,100 acre-feet of water to Dallas each year.