KARNES CITY – Karnes County Commissioners Court approved a group of individuals appointed by Karnes County Judge Barbara Shaw to serve as members of the County Energy Transportation Zone Advisory Board.
Earlier in the Dec. 27 special meeting of Karnes County Commissioners Court, the court approved the creation of the County Energy Transportation Zone, one of the necessary steps aimed at obtaining state funding for county road repairs and construction funded through Senate Bill 1747 (SB1747).
State funding of $224.5 million is available to counties through SB1747 for county roads impacted by oil and gas development.
County officials have estimated that Karnes County could receive between $6 million and $25 million through the program to help repair or reconstruct county roads damaged by recent heavy oilfield traffic.
County Judge Barbara Shaw authored the agenda item related to the appointment of the board members, but was not present at the meeting. Commissioner James Rosales presided over the meeting in her absence, acting as county judge pro tem.
Board members appointed by Shaw included two Karnes County residents, Scott Kimble and Murray Rudolph, and the representatives of three energy companies: Colt Campbell representing Freeport-McMoRan, Johnny Clark representing ConocoPhillips, and Hugo Gutierrez representing Marathon Oil.
Rosales expressed concerns that the list did not include the appointment of an individual to represent EOG, one of the larger energy companies currently operating in Karnes County.
Maurice Yarter, who was in the audience at the meeting, questioned the appointment of a representative of ConocoPhillips when the company has not paid any permit fees related to the drilling and operation of oil and gas wells in Karnes County.
“I guess I would object to appointing them to a council, to which they have not even made an effort to contribute to the permits that are required in this county to drill,” Yarter said. “You are kind of putting the fox in the henhouse.”
Rosales said that he spoke with Judge Shaw who said the court could not make changes to the appointments, but instead could only choose to approve or not approve them. Rosales suggested setting another meeting where Shaw could explain the choices she made for the appointments to the rest of the court prior to the court’s approval of the board members.
Ronnie Mitchell, who has been assisting the county with the SB1747 project, provided some information regarding the board appointments.
“The language specifically says the county judge ‘shall appoint’ and Commissioners Court ‘shall approve,’” Mitchell said. “Now, we get into a gray area, because this morning, you are judge pro tem, so does that put you in the position to make the appointments or not? I am not your legal counsel, but that is a question.”
“It is is very, very important that this be established today because of the calendar and the taxing authority,” Mitchell said.
David Underbrink, an engineer who is also working with the county on the project, said that he believed the court could establish the board, but then name the board members at a later date, if they so choose.
“Let’s get it over with,” said County Commissioner Tracey Schendel. “Let’s do all five and be over with it.”
Schendel said he was aware that ConocoPhillips was behind regarding the payment of permit fees, but he thinks the fees will likely be paid at some point in the future.
A county employee at the meeting said the fees, at $35 each, are not very expensive, but due to the large number of well sites, the amounts currently owed by ConocoPhillips total in the thousands of dollars.
Commissioner Shelby Dupnik made a motion to approve all five appointments as listed by the county judge.
The vote carried unanimously on a 4-0 vote.