Hill Top Cafe Under Siege?

The Fredericksburg hub is in embroiled in a battle with the TCEQ

Hill Top Cafe Under Siege?
by John Anderson

According to a July 6 report in the Fredericksburg Standard Radio Post, the legendary Hill Top Cafe is embroiled in a bureaucratic battle with the Texas Com­mission on Environmental Quality over the source of the restaurant's water. The cafe draws its water supply, for drinking and cooking alike, directly from the Edwards Aquifer, and owner Johnny Nicho­las insists that the water tests clean and they've never had any complaints or illnesses. But the TCEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies the restaurant as a "public water system," and therefore it must install a "chlorination or reverse-osmosis system." Nicholas says such a system would cost at least $60,000 – money he says he doesn't have – and would "ruin the taste" of the food and water. (The cafe does use a UV filtration system, but the TCEQ says that's insufficient.)

In October of 2015, the TCEQ issued a $3,341 penalty (rejecting a subsequent appeal), which Nicholas refuses to pay – although he says he's spent more than $20,000 on legal fees fighting the order. His attorney, Henry Novak, told the Standard: "His position is, 'If I pay them, then I'm admitting I did something wrong – and I didn't do anything wrong. I'm not a public water system and it's unconstitutional and it violates my due process.'"

In a letter to customers posted on the Hill Top website (www.hilltopcafe.com), John, Willie, and Alex Nicholas say they are considering a federal lawsuit, and ask for supporting donations. They say they have "beautiful and safe" water that exceeds all relevant codes. "We are all for a clean and safe environment," they write, "but that is NOT what these regulations are about – they are flawed and dangerous and need to be struck down or amended."

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Hill Top Cafe, Johnny Nicholas, Henry Novack

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