State judge begins sorting through sewer controversy

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 4, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2012 at 11:05 p.m.

When Rose McNary bought her house on Dudley Street, the wastewater treatment plant was about two miles west of her home.

"I moved because the odor was so fierce," she said. "Now this? Nuh-uh."

She is one of a handful of Victoria residents named Wednesday as affected parties by a state administrative judge during the preliminary hearing in a case about a new wastewater treatment plant involving the city of Victoria, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the grassroots organization Concerned Citizens for the Health and Safety of Victoria.

An affected party status applies to people who are more impacted than the general public.

McNary moved once to escape a sewer plant, and now the proposed plant could be across the street from her home. She and her neighbors are out to stop it.

"I'm getting older, I bought the Booker homestead and thought it would be a nice place to retire," McNary said. But she never imagined retiring with the odor of another sewer plant in the distance.

The group is asking the city to rework its plan for a new wastewater treatment plant.

"We rallied the whole community," she said. "I'm sure there's a need, but there are other places it can go ... where it won't affect other people."

The city has said the $20 million plant's proposed location on Hand Road, between Ben Jordan and Odem streets, is the best option.

Councilwoman Denise Rangel said the existing plant on Willow Street, a more heavily-populated area than the new plant's proposed site, needs to close.

"It is within feet of people's homes," she said. "They need to have that old open-plant closed."

Judge Annie Perez, of the State Office of Administrative Hearings, presided over Wednesday's preliminary hearing. Its purpose was to establish jurisdiction over the case and identify the affected parties.

Henry Perez, who was one of the two original parties Texas Commission on Environmental Quality identified as an affected party, withdrew his status and joined the concerned citizens group, so it could gain the designation as an affected party.

Scott Humphrey, of the Office of Public Interest Council, said that move will streamline the hearing process and make it more efficient.

But the major issue Wednesday was what city would host the future hearings - Victoria or Austin.

Humphrey argued the meetings should stay local.

"Because of the great public interest in the matter, we feel it's important for the public to get this enhanced participation by being in Victoria," he told the judge.

Eric Allmon, an Austin attorney representing the concerned citizens group and Kevin McNary, the second affected party, agreed it should stay in Victoria.

He said changing venue would reduce public participation and some members of the affected parties would have difficulty traveling to Austin.

Frank Werkenthin Jr., an Austin attorney representing the city's interest, said they would prefer to have the hearings in Austin as a cost-saving measure.

The judge said it would be best to have the meetings in Victoria.

"It makes sense to have it here," she said.



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