TCEQ fines Yorktown $51,030 for wastewater violations; oilfield challenges cited

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

May 14, 2014 at 12:14 a.m.
Updated May 15, 2014 at 12:15 a.m.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined the city of Yorktown $51,030 for nine separate wastewater facility violations.

The Yorktown city administrator said many of the violations are the result of a shortage of city employees as workers are drawn to the oil field for higher pay.

One of the city's violations was for failing to have a chief operator at the facility five days a week.

"You're supposed to have an operator out there. Of course, we had two of them. One was a superintendent. He actually left to go to the oil field and so did the other individual. But we're in the process of trying to find someone to replace these individuals," said Yorktown City Administrator Robert Mendez.

The facility was fined for failing to let TCEQ know it had changed sewage sludge facilities from one in San Antonio to the Victoria compost facility.

Yorktown was also fined for failing to submit three monthly discharge monitoring reports in 2012 and the annual sludge report in 2012.

The facility's reporting issues are a product of a lack of manpower, Mendez said.

"As far as the oil field, they're starting them off at $23 to $25 an hour," Mendez said. "There's no way we could pay somebody $25 an hour."

The wastewater facility has also had issues with elevated levels of ammonia, which the city failed to notify TCEQ about.

"We noticed our ammonia levels rising when we started getting this oil influx. We're trying to determine the problem," Mendez said. "We've been taking samples from different locations of the wastewater because there is a possibility of illegal dumping into our system."

The city's police department previously caught oil -field workers stealing water from hydrants on the outskirts of town, Mendez said.

"Now, we've gotten to the point that we actually had to spend money to buy locks for these hydrants because of people from the oil field stealing water."

If illegal oil-field waste dumping was going on, it would be difficult for the city to catch the violators.

"Sometimes, we have two officers at night. Sometimes, there is one. It's kind of hard for this officer to be everywhere at one time," Mendez said. "They could do it in a manhole or in RV parks. Not to say that they are. We haven't actually proved that."

Yorktown has paid $1,134 of the $51,030 penalty so far, according to the TCEQ agreed order.

TCEQ will defer $10,206 of the fine if the city of Yorktown complies with the TCEQ order. The remaining $39,690 of the penalty will be paid in 35 monthly installments of $1,134 each.

"You have to abide by (the state's) rules. And in talking to somebody from TCEQ, in reality, we are not the only city that's been kind of bombarded with different issues in regards to the wastewater treatment plants possibly due to the influx of oil," Mendez said.



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