Council to visit site, vote on proposed sewage plant again

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

June 9, 2012 at 1:09 a.m.
Updated June 10, 2012 at 1:10 a.m.

Victoria City Council is expected to decide Tuesday whether to move forward with its proposed sewage treatment plant or withdraw the permit application altogether.

Since the May 12 election, the dynamic of the council's decisions shifted to a 4-3 vote, largely with Councilman David Hagan and newcomers Emett Alvarez and Josephine Soliz voting together, and Councilman Joe Truman often casting the deciding vote. That shift could affect this proposal.

Even so, Hagan and Truman, along with councilmen Tom Halepaska and Paul Polasek and Mayor Will Armstrong, have said they are ready to put the issue to rest.

"I don't want to pull the permit, I don't want to delay the process," Truman said. "I don't want to spend another dime for this situation. It is the most cost-effective place for the sewer treatment plant."

Council will meet 3 p.m. Tuesday at the proposed site, 1309 SW Ben Jordan St., for a work session with city staff and Camp, Dresser and McKee, the engineering firm that recommended the site. After that work session, they will reconvene at 5 p.m. at the council chambers to discuss the issue and vote.

Alvarez proposed pulling the permit during his first city council meeting May 16.

Opposing the sewage treatment plant was one of his main campaign platforms, and he has shown little sign of backing down.

Alvarez said he wants to review the entire process "detail-by-detail" to see the need and justifications of a new plant, and whether an expansion of the regional sewage treatment plant would be cost-effective.

"For some, it's rehashing information," he said. "But as a new council member, I'm obligated to do these things."

The city started pursuing a permit to build a multi-million sewage treatment plant in November 2010, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the permit. However, a group of residents organized as the Concerned Citizens for the Health and Safety of Victoria successfully entered a contested case hearing in an attempt to change the proposed site.

An administrative law judge will decide the permit's fate in January if the council does not withdraw it Tuesday.

The meeting features three resolutions: one that would withdraw the pending Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit, one that authorizes City Manager Charmelle Garrett to hire an Austin law firm not to exceed $84,617 to represent the city at the permit hearing, and one that authorizes Garrett to hire an engineering firm not to exceed $45,000, to represent the city in the same hearing.

Hagan said despite his two votes in opposition of the permit, he lost the issue.

"This is where they've determined to put the sewer plant," he said "Without something tremendously compelling, I would not be in favor of pulling the permit. We're hundreds of thousands of dollars deep into this location."

However, Soliz said the issue is about more than money.

"I can't give an opinion or quote, I want to see from the engineers," she said. "I'm not saying let's not do the sewer plant. Let's look at all the locations and find out why they turned them down. I want to see everything - let's compare apples to apples."

Halepaska said if the votes Tuesday are based on science and engineering, not politics, the permit will not be pulled.

"I still believe it will be approved because there's nothing wrong with our site permit," he said. "It's the best site and all we have to do is go through a court hearing to prove that it's the best site."

Polasek said they have been going through these studies for the past six years, there is no new information.

"I'm confident that they'll vote on keeping the permit in place," Polasek said. "I don't have any problem at all with going over information so the two new council members, Mr. Alvarez and Ms. Soliz, can have an opportunity to discuss it."

He said "it would be very unfortunate" if the permit was pulled.

"There's been a lot of investment and time to make sure this is the best (proposal)," he said. "The point is, we're going to need this facility soon."

The mayor remains cautious about Tuesday's decision.

"I would not dare to prophesize how the new council will vote," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he hopes the science will speak for itself. He hopes residents and council members will also check out the Willow Street plant, which will close once a new sewage plant is online.

"We've spent a lot of time and money on this project and there's been a lot of scientific information," he said. "I think it will be very revealing to the public. They'll realize just how big 80 acres is."



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