Environmental commission orders mediation between city, concerned residents in sewer plant permitting process

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Jan. 26, 2012 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 25, 2012 at 7:26 p.m.

State regulators are giving Victoria officials and two residents nine months to reach an agreement over where a controversial wastewater plant will be built.

The proposed Odem Street Wastewater Treatment Plant - located on Hand Road between Ben Jordan and Odem streets - has received sharp criticism for its location near homes and a convent, but is supported as the most cost-effective site.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality identified two residents who filed an objection in July on the facility as affected parties.

The hold on the permit gives the city and those residents a chance to reach an agreement about the Odem Street Wastewater Treatment Plant. TCEQ has nine months to make a decision about the permit.

Victoria Public Works Director Lynn Short said the state agency's action is not a delay - just part of the process.

"If the permit would have gone ahead and been issued, it would have sped the process up," Short said. "If we have to go a full nine months, that will push it back a little bit."

He expects the facility to be operational by 2015.

A month after the initial hearing in July, the city council increased fees on water by 47 cents, and sewer by 58 cents for 3/4-inch meters. The increases will help pay the debt associated with the proposed plant.

The city started planning for the facility after the regional treatment plant reached a 75-percent capacity for three consecutive months in 2005.

Short said the plant is operating below 75 percent.

He said the location on Odem Street is best because of cost and geography. It is close to the current facility, meaning less would be spent on large main pipes and the city would not need to invest in two sludge processors.

It could cost the city anywhere between $500,000 to millions of dollars more to build somewhere else, resulting in water and sewage fee increases as much as $5 to $10 each month.

In addition, it is above the 100-year floodplain, he said.

"There's always a chance that the permit could be denied at some point," Short said. "I'm hoping that doesn't occur because this is the best location for this plant."

Councilman Joe Truman has supported both sides of the issue, noting that no one wants to have a wastewater treatment plant in their backyard.

The TCEQ's call for discussion is good news for property owners, he said. However, the best case scenario is simply a sewer plant, he said.

"The good of the many outweighed the cause of the few," Truman said of his decision to support the facility. "It's going to be a wonderful plant that no one will even know is a sewer plant. If you can't see it, smell it or hear it, it's a good neighbor."

Henry Perez, one of the parties named by TCEQ, had previously complained that a plant near his 15-acre property would lower its value.

Several attempts to reach him Thursday for comment were unsuccessful.

City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said whether the construction is a shopping mall or a municipal utility service, property values always go up.

"Everybody always expresses that concern," he said. "I'm not convinced" values are affected.

He said his opinion is that the proposed location complies with legal requirements.

"Ultimately, I believe that TCEQ will grant the permit, but it's up to the commission, not me," he said.

Attempts to reach Kevin McNary, the other party named by TCEQ were unsuccessful.

Incarnate Word Convent was another opposition group although not specifically mentioned by TCEQ.

Sister Andrea Hubnick declined to comment about the state's decision without first consulting the other women in the convent.



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