In 2019, the city of Dripping Springs was finalizing plans for a new pipeline to move wastewater from its busy north end to a regional treatment plant on the south. Half a decade in the making, planners said the line was essential to control development in the rapidly growing Austin suburb.
One of the dozen or so properties they identified for the pipeline to cross belonged to Bruce Bolbock, an anesthesiologist. Valued at more than $9 million, the bucolic Hill Country ranch rolls across 225 acres in Hays County, and he didn’t want a buried raw wastewater pipeline on even the narrow strip it required. In addition to having a delicate natural spring on the property, he raised bison and exotic toucans that “require a very consistent environment that’s free of noise [and] disturbance.”
With the looming threat of the city taking his land through eminent domain, Bolbock placed a phone call to a Dallas hotel magnate and generous supporter of conservative political causes named Monty Bennett. Bennett didn’t have a magic wand. But he did have a sort of superpower: his own government.
In 2011, then-state Sen. Lance Gooden — now a U.S. Congressman — whose candidacies Bennett supported financially and with whom he reportedly co-owned land, sponsored a new law forming the Lazy W District No. 1 municipal utility district. Such special-purpose governments typically are created so developers can sell bonds to pay for water and sewer lines in new subdivisions. New residents then pay the MUD assessments to retire the loans.
But court records show the Lazy W was created at Bennett’s request and primarily for him; it is almost exclusively made up of his sprawling private family ranch in Henderson County, an hour-and-a-half drive southeast of Dallas. Although he has said he wanted to form the district to conserve its natural beauty, Bennett also was clear he wanted his own government to wage a personal battle against the Tarrant Regional Water District, which had proposed routing a pipeline across the ranch.
Broadly, Lazy W argued that one government can’t sue another for eminent domain. So once Bennett’s ranch became District No. 1, TRWD could not legally take its property. The water district ended up routing its line around Bennett’s ranch. Now the Bolbocks wondered if Bennett might be able to use his government — even though it was located 200 miles from their property — to protect their land, too.
They hit on a solution: Despite the distance, Bennett’s special district “purchased” a thin strip of land encircling the Bolbock’s spread. By surrounding the private ranch with a protective government moat, Lazy W, a special district based in an entirely different region of the state, has been able to prevent Dripping Springs from moving ahead on its preferred pipeline plan.
Bennett has used the district granted to him by the Legislature in other unusual ways. The Lazy W recently flexed its government muscle by seeking to condemn 55 acres of a neighbor’s private property against his will and absorbing it into the district. The neighbor argued Bennett simply wanted to add some land to his ranch.
“This taking is a sham whose sole purpose is to confer private benefits to private parties,” the neighbor, Arlis Jones, wrote in a legal filing.
While Jones tries to recover his property, however, Lazy W has already erected a fence around it.
There’s more and I can’t do justice to it by excerpting, so go read the rest. I have some sympathy for the Bolbocks, whose concern about a pipeline on their property is relatable. The solution they pursued is just wrong. Special purpose districts, of which there are more than four thousand (!) in Texas, have their place in the landscape. Being part of a Bond villain starter kit shouldn’t be one of their missions. Just don’t expect anything to be done about them any time soon.