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GBRA takes charge of Buda's

Wednesday, May 30, 2001 by

Troublesome wastewater plant

City Council to discuss options tonight

The Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) has stepped in to help the city of Buda bring its wastewater plant into state compliance, and tonight the Buda City Council will consider what role the GBRA might have in the city’s future wastewater operations.

Jeff Saitas, executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), issued an emergency order Friday that the city of Buda cease all unauthorized discharges and hire an independent Class A wastewater operator to supervise the city’s sewage disposal facility. The municipality was given two days to comply with the order. John Smith, the upper basin operations manager for the GBRA, began to manage the city’s wastewater facility over the weekend, according to both the city and the river authority.

The city has been under a barrage of criticism from the Kyle Eagle, a Hays County weekly newspaper, since April 18. The Eagle has detailed problems the Bollinger family has endured from effluent being dumped into the creek that feeds a 12-acre lake on their property. Susan Meckel, the Bollinger’s daughter, also wrote a lengthy commentary in the Eagle, which says that the family is prepared to fight “an application for yet another wastewater facility run by the private company, AquaSource, . . . being considered by the TNRCC.” Sewage effluent from that plant would discharge into same polluted waterway, she said. Meckel explained that the effluent that has ruined their lake flows downstream through populated areas, including Lockhart and Luling. The contaminated water eventually empties into the San Marcos River, which flows into the Guadalupe River.

TNRCC spokesman Dick Lewis, said the effluent being discharged by Buda’s wastewater treatment plant was “unauthorized” because it had not been properly treated and included sludge that should never have been allowed out of the plant.

He said the TNRCC staff was also concerned about cleaning up the creek, which should begin immediately. Lewis said issuance of the order was only the first weapon in TNRCC’s legal arsenal. He said the agency’s enforcement division is currently working on the case, which could lead to fines and additional orders for the city of Buda.

TNRCC verified allegations made by the Bollinger family during an inspection in early May. City Manager Grey White attributes the problems to a combination of rapid population growth, heavy rain and perhaps some industrial effluent from an unknown source. “Once we were made aware of the situation, we immediately acted to try to rectify the situation,” White said. “We don’t like this anymore than anybody else does, and we’ve made a lot of effort to try to address the problem as quickly as we could. We’re trying to do what’s right.”

The city immediately called its own environmental consultant as well as the GBRA, White said. Smith has been in Buda since last Thursday. Debbie Magin, director of water quality services for the GBRA, confirms that Smith is in Buda both to bring the plant into compliance and to assist in the city wastewater plant’s expansion, which will roll out over the next two weeks. GBRA is also setting up a monitoring site in the Andrews Branch/Porter Creek watershed to keep tabs on the creek’s condition.

White says the expansion should take care of the effluent problem. The $1 million expansion, which will increase the plant’s capacity from 300,000 gallons a day to 600,000 gallons a day, is intended to provide service to another 1,100 housing units in the city. “Once we get that expansion online, it should go a long way to solving our problems,” White said.

White says the problem in early May was caused by a combination of factors: a heavy rain, a lack of capacity, a compromised level of service as the new plant is brought on line and possibly a demand for heavier effluent than the city typically handles.

“If the flows were what they were two years ago with this type of effluent coming in, we would not have had a problem,” White said. But that is not the case. “Right now we’re pushing the maximum that we can allow for the plant, and that’s part of the problem.”

The GBRA could take over as the permanent manager of the city’s wastewater plant or the city could choose to sell its plant to the river authority. Buda city leaders will discuss a variety of options the GBRA has presented at tonight’s meeting. The discussion comes while the small Hays County city continues wrangling with Austin over the annexation of land that could double Buda’s size and significantly step up the city’s development efforts.

White is not willing to discuss what options the GBRA has presented in its plan. He says the city does have the document in hand and council members will discuss it Wednesday night. TNRCC’s emergency order remains in effect for 180 days.

Mayor says ratepayers will not

Pay for repairs to Ullrich line

Watson won't say who's to blame for leaks

Mayor Kirk Watson’ s legal training was evident on Tuesday at a news conference held to discuss the latest developments concerning the Ullrich Water Main. The 72-inch pipe was installed last year, but subsequently developed leaks. Watson offered reassurances that the repairs, which began this week, would not have an adverse impact on the city’s water supply—and stressed that the cost of the repairs would not be coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

“I want to assure our community that we are going to focus on recouping any costs that are associated with the repairs once we’re satisfied the repairs are in place,” Watson told reporters. While the up-front costs for the labor to make the repairs are being paid by the city—$1.2 million was approved by the City Council earlier this month to get repairs started—Watson stressed that the cost would not be passed on to utility customers. “While we may not be responsible for the leaks, we do want to be responsible for getting the Ullrich line up and running,” Watson said. “That is an appropriate and responsible way of addressing this issue.”

The city’s position is that a third party caused the leaks in the pipe, possibly the contractor, or the manufacturer. There have been discussions with those parties, but no agreement has yet been reached. Watson declined to comment specifically on which company the city believed was at fault, saying only, “We’re involved in discussions with all potential parties . . . I would characterize the discussions as productive, not complete,” Watson said. “If we can reach a conclusion to this dispute more rapidly, I think that’s the better way to go. But let me be clear—we’re not afraid of filing a lawsuit.”

Watson indicated that the city’s forensic testing showed the reason there were failures in the line last December had to do with the equipment supplied, and the city’s position was that since the city was not responsible for that equipment, it would be seeking reimbursement.

Early estimates show the potential cost of fixing the line could reach $8 million, although Watson was hesitant to fix that as a price tag. “I don’t want to tie myself down to a figure that ends up being wrong,” he said when asked about cost estimates for the repair work. “I don’t want to tie myself to a figure that somebody later says, ‘We’ve got this videotape of you’ . . . I’ve been in a courtroom a time or two myself.”

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Expecting soon . . . Rebecca Giello of the city’s Public Information Office is on maternity leave until the end of July. She and her husband are expecting a baby girl in early to mid-June . . . Historic Landmark Commission wants more input . . . Members of the Historic Landmark Commission expressed a desire to clarify their relationship with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau on Tuesday night. The commission’s role in advising the ACVB on the use of money for historic preservation and heritage tourism was spelled out in an agreement between the city and the ACVB in the mid-80's, but that language has not been included in subsequent agreements. The commission voted unanimously to ask the city to consider the text of that 1986 agreement when drafting the next deal with the ACVB.

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