Water rates to fund legal defense for sewage treatment plant

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 14, 2012 at 9:04 p.m.
Updated April 14, 2012 at 11:15 p.m.

To support legal counsel in a dispute over a proposed sewage treatment plant, Victoria City Council members will consider a $175,000 transfer within the water department.

The Council will hear the first reading of the transfer ordinance Tuesday, which would move the money within the department to the water/wastewater fund's professional services line from its balance line. The transfer is funded through water and sewer bills, said City Manager Charmelle Garrett.

With that, ultimately Concerned Citizens for the Health and Safety of Victoria -- the residents opposing the proposed plant -- is helping to fund the defense through their individual water bills, Garrett said.

The city wants to build the plant on Hand Road, between Ben Jordan and Odem streets, southeast of downtown.

An Austin-based firm -- Booth, Ahrens and Werkenthin -- will represent the city's interests in the contested case hearing regarding a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit to build a new treatment plant, said City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz.

Budget breakdowns and hourly rates were not made immediately available.

Leading the case is Attorney Fred Werkenthin Jr., who previously helped the city on water permit issues, as well as to secure a permit for a surface water plant. The other entity is the Austin branch of engineering firm Camp, Dresser & McKee, which designed the surface water plant, said Public Works Director Lynn Short.

The transfer will cover the city's attorneys fees, as well as expenses to hire experts and engineers for the case, Gwosdz said.

Although the transfer's total was based on an estimate of hours and work involved, as the case progresses and matters come up, more experts may come into play, Gwosdz said.

Garrett said she hopes the transfer will cover the entire case, which could take up to nine months. The transfer is separate from the estimated $20 million price tag of the proposed plant.

Short said the transferred dollars would come from the balance - money that was leftover after the budgeting process.

Because an administrative law judge is presiding over the case, whether either side can recoup legal fees from the opposing party is uncertain, Gwosdz said.

"Not all of the same rules apply," he said.

The concerned citizens group, represented by attorney Eric Allmon, of Austin, say the plan's proximity to a convent, school, youth club and residences make it a poor site.

During the preliminary hearing April 4 in the 24th District Courtroom in Victoria, opponents said the plan needs to be revised and a new location chosen, one that does not disturb residents.

However, public works officials have said the advances in technology will make the plant a good neighbor, and the location is the most cost-effective: close to the river and out of the floodplain.

Plans and research for a new plant have been in the works since 2005.

Short said the headworks of the new plant, the stage that produces the bulk of the odor, will be covered. In the Willow Street plant, it is open. The air would be scrubbed before released back into the environment, Short said.

In addition to the headworks protocol, all the sludge will be piped to the regional plant and processed off site, Short said.



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