County zoning bill in danger

County judge: "It will probably die'

EL PASO, Texas - The county judge says a bill meant to give El Paso County zoning rights near the future Tornillo Port of Entry "will probably die during this session." It's yet another blow to the county as it looks to gain control surrounding the area of an asset that is expected to one day be its biggest money-maker.

County Judge Veronica Escobar said it was the work of fellow Commissioner Dan Haggerty's brother, former House Rep. Patrick Haggerty, that led to the unraveling of the bill. During Monday's meeting, she said Patrick Haggerty used misinformation to kill the bill.

"That kind of information sends people scrambling," said Escobar.

Commissioner Haggerty boiled it down to calling his brother, Pat, a liar. The county judge made it a point to say those were Dan Haggerty's words, not hers.

After a discussion of what Pat Haggerty's testimony, Commissioner Haggerty said he hadn't heard the testimony and couldn't speak to it. However, he argued that there is a difference in passing a bill and killing a bill.

"I think the plan to kill bills is misinformation," said Commissioner Haggerty.

To date, El Paso County has invested roughly $40 million into the El Paso Port of Entry. The U.S. government has paid around $100 million. With so much money flying around, the county decided to push for a bill that would give zoning authority to El Paso County for 60 square miles around the Tornillo Port of Entry.

In March, the county was informed that some of the land belonged to the General Land Office. According to county staffers, 20 square miles belong to the Permanent University Fund. That means the county can't have control over that land.

Zoning isn't a power given to counties in Texas. Instead, it's a right only given to municipalities. In the past, 21 other counties have gained zoning in special cases, however, they're only given powers typically in order to protect assets.

According to Escobar, Patrick Haggerty misinformed Texas legislators claiming that El Paso County was looking to gain the full powers of a municipality and that they were trying to make the bill applicable statewide.

"That strategy was effective," said Escobar. "Our bill is in trouble."

Pat Haggerty told ABC-7 by phone that he didn't believe he gave any misinformation, but added Escobar is entitled to her opinion on how things unfolded.

Pat Haggerty said he used the same logic the county did when arguing against the county's bill to zone near the Tornillo Port of Entry. According to him, the county argued that other counties have been given zoning power in similar situations. Pat Haggerty said that's the exact same argument he made.

"Every time a county gets ordinance-making power, zoning power, every other county says, ‘You did it for El Paso, why not do it for us?'" said Pat Haggerty. "If that's what she's saying, then yeah, I said it."

Commissioner Haggerty said the county pays an exorbitant amount of money on lobbyists and questioned how the county couldn't take on a freshman lobbyist. During a break, Escobar said that Patrick Haggerty is beloved in Austin after his own time in the legislature.

"If there was a person to kill our bill, it would be him," said Escobar.
Commissioner Haggerty was one of two commisioners who didn't support the Port of Entry zoning bill. Commissioner Sergio Lewis is the other. Lewis has long stated he believes the timeline of the bill was too hurried -- a point he brought up again today.

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