Man Questions Local Permits after New Building in Cameron Co.

5 years 7 months 2 weeks ago Thursday, February 16 2017 Feb 16, 2017 February 16, 2017 6:51 PM February 16, 2017 in News

BROWNSVILLE – A building in Brownsville built without permits is going up near Boca Chica Village. The problem is no one seems to know where the water and sewer is coming from and why they were allowed to build without a permit.

For nearly 18 miles, all there is wide open land and in the distance people can spot a familiar sign welcoming residents home.

“It’s just a nice place to be,” Sam Clauson said.

Clauson is a Winter Texas who makes the journey south every year to his home in Boca Chica Village.

“First of all, we are bird watchers, my wife and I are bird watchers, and this is an ideal place with the bay over here. There is just this is inside the lower Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge,” he said.

He said he’s afraid all that will change.

Clauson said when he returned home to Boca Chica months ago he noticed something out of place - a new building belonging to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for their stargate program.

“It’s quite a struggle to get a building permit for anything out here because of the county. (It) says they can’t allow anything new in the area unless it’s served by a community water service or a community sewer. Well we’re 16 miles from Brownsville so obviously we don’t have either of those,” he said.

Clauson started asking questions and discovered the building didn’t obtain any local permits.

“None of that building has been approved by Cameron County,” he said.

It doesn’t have to be, according to Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr.

“We did a little bit of checking and searching. And my understanding is there is a state law and attorney general opinions that basically support the position of the building of state facilities do not have to comply with local ordinances regarding the building permit, the issuance of such permits,” he said.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted Karen Adler, director of media relations and communications programming for the University of Texas system for clarification. She provided us with four attorney general opinions relevant to the situation.

Alder stated local and municipal ordinances, building codes and permitting requirements cannot be applied to state property or agencies of the state, including public institutes of higher education.

The attorney general’s opinions date back more than 30 years.

“The state has that exception that it does not have to follow. Luckily though, to my understanding, they usually do work with the local entities just to advise them of what they’re doing and what they’re following,” he said.

Trevino said it’s a very unique situation.

“We want to comply with the same laws we have. We want them to get permits. We want to know what they are going to do as far as water and sewer,” he explained.

There was no definitive answer if the new building will be using water holding tanks, like the people living in Boca Chica.

Clauson said he hopes his community will be included if the building gets water and sewer lines.

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