Questions still loom after termination of Black Castle wastewater contract

After voting to terminate plans for a city-owned wastewater plant, Wimberley city leaders’ next step in addressing its wastewater woes remains unclear. 

But in the interim, some Wimberley residents are waiting in limbo, confused and concerned with what comes next.

The termination of the Black Castle Construction contract, which called for the city-owned system, means the city will have to re-apply for the $5.5 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB); the reason is due to the city is changing its provider for the plant.

Will Bowman, a former project manager for Shell Oil and Wimberley resident, said he’s never seen a working project change drastically in the middle of operations.

“If they do not get that TWDB loan again, they have zero dollars to continue this project,” Bowman said. “And since the Black Castle contract is over, the city needs to start from square one.”

Bowman said the cancelation of the Black Castle contract would cost the city around $850,000; however, the city or representatives from Black Castle have not confirmed that cost estimate. 

“At this point, we are waiting for information from the City of Wimberley,” said Merry Klonower, chief communications officer for the TWDB. “We have asked them for detailed information on the changes they are proposing to the project. Until the TWDB staff receives that information and has time to review, we cannot answer how that will affect their loan.”

On Aug. 28, the Wimberley City Council opted to terminate its contract with Black Castle, but did not take action for any future plans.

However, city council members spoke about their support for third-party wastewater provider Aqua Texas.

Concerns over Cost
Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers and several city council members believe the Aqua Texas plan could be a more cost-effective alternative. Some residents and former elected officials, however, are not convinced. They claim termination fees and lost funding sources as a result of the city council’s recent decision could make the city-owned plant more affordable.

The city effectively lost $2 million of funding when the Black Castle contract was terminated; Wimberley lost $1 million from the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA) and $1 million from the Way Grant.

A major selling point for the city-owned wastewater project was connecting irrigation lines to Blue Hole Regional Park. Currently, Blue Hole does not have an irrigation system to the public soccer fields.

But Jaggers’ presentation during an Aug. 14 workshop did not include irrigation to Blue Hole if the city decided to go with Aqua Texas.

“All of her (Jaggers) documents are sloppy and incomplete,” said Rebecca Minnick, Wimberley resident. “They say it’s about the money, but there is no evidence of that and they’ve gutted the Blue Hole plan to make the numbers work.”

Discharge drama
For some Wimberley city leaders, the Aqua Texas plan was attractive as it did not require a discharge permit.

Gary Barchfeld, Wimberley city council member, said Aug. 28 that Aqua Texas will not discharge, which was a concern for some council members about the city-owned plant.

Wimberley’s city-owned plant required a discharge permit through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

“Forever. That’s how long you’re going to pollute the Blanco River (if you choose the city-owned plant),” Barchfeld said at the council meeting. “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.”

Steve Thurber, former Mayor for the City of Wimberley, said there is no such thing as “no discharge,” and believes Aqua Texas’ land application permit will still call for it.

“That water will still percolate to the aquifer,” Thurber said. “Discharge permits call for large amounts of wastewater storage and I absolutely believe that is safer. The city plan is the more environmentally sound plan than going with Aqua Texas.”

The News-Dispatch reached out to the city of Wimberley for comment on this story. Wimberley city officials did not respond prior to press time.

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