City, residents agree to sewage plant terms
Oct. 8, 2012 at 5:08 a.m.
Updated Oct. 9, 2012 at 5:09 a.m.
Hours away from a contentious court hearing over a proposed sewage treatment plant, Concerned Citizens for the Health and Safety of Victoria ended its fight Monday to flush the project.
Victoria City Council agreed to 11 conditions with the citizens group ranging from annual water tests to landscaping.
Kevin McNary, a member of the concerned citizens group, said the decision to withdraw the protest was based on experts' opinions and boiled down to the best way of maintaining their mission to protect health and safety.
"I feel like it was a positive step as long as the city adheres to the settlement agreements," McNary said.
The agreement largely focuses on monitoring the plant and its impact on groundwater.
McNary said the agreement aims to catch potential hazards. While the potential for hazard is not eliminated, he said the agreement is a step in the right direction.
"We don't want a repeat of the conditions that the people on Willow Street have to live in," McNary said.
City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said almost all of the 11 points were already included in the plan, except for changes to street access and a longer groundwater monitoring period.
"It reassured them of our good intentions by giving them a written agreement," Gwosdz said.
The battle over Victoria's proposed sewage treatment plant left a $115,000 dent in the city's budget, which some council members say was avoidable.
Councilman Tom Halepaska said the hearing and protest was "totally unnecessary."
"It was a waste of tax dollars," he said.
He said all the citizens group's concerns had been addressed in previous meetings.
Councilman Paul Polasek broke the figures down: $75,000 in legal fees and $40,000 for expert testimony and research.
"Almost everything we're agreeing to was already agreed with," Halepaska said.
Public Works Director Lynn Short said once the city gets its permit within four to six weeks, the next step is settling the design.
Short estimates the design to take about a year before going up for a bid.
"At this point, we'll probably be late 2015" before the plant is operational, he said. "I don't think we'll have to ask for an extension. TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) knows we're working toward this, so we'll be fine."
The issue started in early 2005 when the city's plant operated at 75 percent capacity for three months, triggering a rule that requires planning to begin for expansion.
Because the regional facility is in a flood-protected area, city officials said expansion was not an option. However, a new, 4.4 million gallon plant would meet future demand, and they could close the 50-year-old plant at Willow Street.
The City Council voted to spend $375,000 to purchase a 78-acre site off Southwest Ben Jordan Street in 2009.
In November 2010, city officials pursued a building permit. Engineers looked at nine locations across the city, considering proximity to the Guadalupe River and floodplain, expansion room, population density, proximity to the $500-per-foot wastewater collection mains on Bottom Road and the regional wastewater plant on U.S. Highway 59.
They settled on the recently acquired property off Ben Jordan Street, prompting many of the plant's opponents to cry foul, including McNary. Nine homes are in a 2,000 foot radius of the proposed site.
Mayor Armstrong said he is relieved the protest and hearing are behind them.
The city will make every effort to comply with the state commission's rule that the plant be operational in 2015, he said.
Rebuilding trust was part of the city's initial problem, he said.
"No one necessarily wants a sewer plant as a neighbor," Armstrong said. "People in the vicinity had to be assured that we were going to do the job properly."
Councilman David Hagan said he is glad both parties are satisfied and the case will not "drag on."
"I'm relieved that they were able to come to a conclusion without a contested case hearing," Hagan said.
McNary said the time and expense should have been avoided.
"As citizens of a city of this size, we shouldn't have had to go through all this," McNary said. "Their argument was time and money. The citizens' argument was health and safety. Do I feel like they addressed the argument of health and safety? No. If they had, this plant would be at a different site."
So long as the city adheres to the settlement agreement, the outcome will be positive, McNary said.
"Hopefully in the future with their planning, they take citizens' lives and health and safety into consideration," he said.