Court sets fees, penalties for seismic oil operations
Oil and gas companies operating in Gonzales County may be in some hot water. The Gonzales County Commissioners are working to solve an escalating seismic operations problem.
According to Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski, there is a communication issue between the county and many of the oil and gas companies conducting land based sonar project.
“There is a 26 mile one going on now and we’ve been unable to mow the grass in that area because of their cables,” he said. “And they won’t move them when we ask them to.”
The entire court agreed that a resolution must be found soon.
“I know of some people who will be requesting more of these (seismic requests), so we need to come to a decision about how to handle this,” said County Judge David Bird.
The court decided to set a permit fee of $1,000, and a $5,000 cash bond. They also agreed to charge $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second.
The new permit requires the companies to make provisions for and limit inconveniences for county, traveling public and the property owners.
“We realize now how vague our agreement is,” Brzozowski said.
He added that there are many safety concerns with the operations.
“They (the oil companies) are responsible for putting up the necessary signs. Many of their people are riding 4-wheelers out there and one day they’re going to have an accident.”
Bird said the issue has many layers, including use of county property without permission.
“If they’re not leasing someone’s property, they’re using our right of way to access other property,” Bird said. “This is a probably going to be a problem like our subdivision rules. Once we get into it we’ll find other things we need to do to work this out.”
The money from the fees will be added to the general fund for the county, instead of each individual precinct.
In related news, the court agreed to adopt a permit form for laying pipelines and utility lines along county road right of ways.
“It follows TxDoT format,” Bird said. “It may be changing soon, but we will send letters to all of the companies involved.”
The new fees will be effective immediately.
The court also discussed a parking problem at the Courthouse Annex on Sarah DeWitt Dr. in Gonzales. The parking lot is used by the courthouse annex staff, the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office, DPS, and the probation department.
Gonzales County Sheriff Glen Sachtleben explained that large work trucks and other vehicles are continuously blocking access in and out of the property.
“We have a parking problem and we need your help,” Sachtleben told the commissioners. “Cattle trailers and survey company trucks are always parked there .”
He said it not unusual to have emergency vehicles blocked in.
“I had to go out through a neighboring property because there was no exit open,” he continued. “When we can’t get emergency and other official vehicles out, that is big problem.”
Sachtleben said that county vehicles are parked farther into the parking lot because of the elevation of the property. Then when the trucks and trailers block the exits the official vehicles are blocked in.
“The vehicles we have to take care of have to be parked up high in case of flooding,” he said.
He said the Sheriff’s office has put notices on vehicle window’s notifying them that they are illegally parked but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
“Some people can’t take a hint. We left a note but they do it again,” Sachtleben said.
He added that parking violations fall under city ordinances.
“We really don’t have citation authority without the city’s help. Maybe we could put up a fence, but that would be a last resort,” Sachtleben said.
County Clerk Lee Reidel said she is not surprised by the congestion outside in the parking lot. She said based on the number of people inside the county annex office everyday she doesn’t see any sign of it slowing down.
“Its not uncommon for me to have 70 landmen in there,” Reidel said. “Some days its standing room only.”
The recent oil and natural gas boom in Gonzales County has created a lot of mineral rights and land lease business.
Commissioner Kevin LaFleur mentioned repainting the fire lane in front of the building, until a more permanent solution can be discovered.
Sachtleben agreed with the idea. “Painting a fire lane would be the most cost effective initially,” he said.
Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski suggested hiring a firm to redesign the parking lot for the county.
“The spaces in the lot can’t be any smaller,” Sachtleben said.
Chief Deputy Dennis Richter said there is more to consider than just parking spaces.
“The most dangerous thing is the lack of visibility coming out of the parking lot,” Richter said.
In other business, the commissioners approved a temporary part time clerk position for Constable Raleigh Measom in Precinct 3, to assist in increased paperwork due to oil company driveway permit requests.
“There’s a lot more to it,” Measom said. “But I need some help with this.”
The position will pay $12.99 per hour, and the funds will be used from the current budget.
The court also approved closure of a large portion of CR 553 in Precinct 3. The 980 feet leads to private property and is basically used as a driveway.
During public comment, Measom said he wants to meet with oil and gas companies in the Fall to explain what the county expects from the drivers.
“They must driver safer. They need to think of the people in the smaller vehicles as their mothers, sisters, and children,” Measom said. “Or else we are going to have a lot of accidents here.”