Wimberley wastewater treatment contract terminated despite protests

Plans for a Wimberley-owned wastewater treatment plant were flushed away last week after city leaders chose to terminate the existing contract for the proposed project.

The decision to do so, which came via a 4-1 Wimberley City Council vote, could pave the way for the city to possibly pick Aqua Texas, a third-party provider, to operate its wastewater system. Council member Allison Davis cast the lone dissenting vote.

But the move wasn’t without controversy, as residents and city leaders clashed in a bizarre Aug. 28 meeting rife with protests, an unconventional public comment arrangement; a few people were even escorted out by police. Also unknown is what financial ramifications could come of Wimberley’s decision to cut the cord on its city-owned facility plan.

Council members Patricia Kelly, Gary Barchfeld, Craig Fore and Mike McCullough, who all voted in favor of the contract termination, cited that Aqua Texas is more affordable than its contract with Black Castle, which is the city-owned plan.

They also argued Aqua Texas has committed to Type 1 effluent treatment.

But some members of the community were not convinced that a contract with Aqua Texas is advantageous. Scott Price, a Wimberley resident, said he wasn’t sure that opting for Aqua Texas is fiscally responsible.

“I’m against Aqua Texas and it’s a financial concern,” Price said. “Voting for Aqua is stepping in a financial quagmire. There are costs that are missing and that is a serious concern. The current plan is vetted, funded and there is no reason why we should not do it.”

While some residents got the chance to speak, others were not able to, due in part to a “pros and cons”-style public comment period, which was announced by Mayor Susan Jaggers prior to the start of the meeting.

During public comment, residents who were for and against the city-owned plant spoke in alternating order. However, city officials said once one side ran out of speakers, the period for public comment was over.

After roughly 30 minutes of public comment, the city closed the session, which left several residents unable to address city council.

Councilmember Davis, who viewed the meeting via webcam, said the city should continue with the city-owned plant as that plan was already in place.

“After our first council meeting after the election, I was told we are going with Aqua Texas and the numbers keep changing to make that work,” Davis said. “Our neighbor of Kyle was in a three-year lawsuit with Aqua Texas, and Wimberley cannot afford to do that. We need to value local control. This vote will empower an Aqua Texas monopoly.”

Kelly disagreed, citing the city-owned treatment plant was not fully vetted. Kelly also did not understand the level of public outcry against Aqua Texas.

“Forever. That’s how long you’re going to pollute the Blanco River (if you choose the city-owned plant),” Barchfeld said. “I have spoken to leaders from other cities who have advised (us)to outsource the plant. We don’t know what it takes to run a company.”

Animosity between some residents and city council members continued after the vote was cast.

Residents against Aqua Texas, who showed disappointment with the outcome, stayed after the meeting adjourned to protest the council’s decision.

The full financial impact of the city’s decision to back out of the Black Castle contract remains unknown. Additionally, city officials have not officially begun contractual discussions with Aqua Texas at this time. It is unknown when discussions could begin.

This story is developing. An update can be found on the News-Dispatch website, www.haysnewsdispatch.com.

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