Frustrations and concerns are growing among downtown Wimberley business owners as they wait for the city to receive approval for changes in its wastewater system plans.
That, combined with plans for third-party Aqua Texas to operate a proposed wastewater treatment plant, leaves some residents to worry about the project and when it could come to fruition.
Four months ago, Wimberley city leaders terminated plans with Black Castle for a city-owned wastewater plant; city leaders opted for a wastewater treatment facility managed by Aqua Texas.
That move meant city officials had to reapply and receive approval from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on changes to its plan, which include a crucial $5.5 million to fund the facility.
Officials at the TWDB told the News-Dispatch that changing the project’s scope must be approved by the board when all environmental, engineering and data analysis is compiled. The TWDB could not comment on when that date might be.
Until the TWDB makes a decision regarding the change of scope, downtown Wimberley business owners are now reportedly in limbo.
“It’s taken a long time. It’s a lot longer than the mayor told us it was going to take,” said Steven Thurber, a former mayor of Wimberley. “There are several businesses who made capital investments based on the promise by the city that we would have a shared system between April and June of 2019. If the wastewater plant doesn’t happen, their businesses are going to suffer.”
Clay Schultz, director for regional water project development at the TWDB, said TWDB is requiring the city to host another public hearing related to the environmental analysis as part of the reapplication process.
The city had a variety of options in its original engineering report, including the option to start an agreement with Aqua Texas, said Darin Larsen, manager for regional water project development at the TWDB.
“This is a modification by terminating the contract with Black Castle,” Larsen said. “It does change their time frame and we’ve been working with them as quickly as possible.”
The city of Wimberley has not commented on the termination fees associated with the Black Castle contract. The News-Dispatch reported the city could pay upwards of $800,000 for terminating the contract.
Blue Hole irrigation out of the picture
Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers said changing the scope of the project, which includes working with Aqua Texas, would be more cost-effective than a city-owned plant. Aqua Texas currently operates a wastewater treatment plant in Woodcreek, located near Wimberley.
At an Aug. 14 workshop, Jaggers’ presentation did not include proposed water irrigation funding for Blue Hole Park, a major selling point for the city-owned plant.
The funding for Blue Hole Park under the city-owned plant would have allowed the city to irrigate the soccer fields and landscaping at the regional park, which would have alleviated some of the pressure of having to apply for a discharge permit.
“Blue Hole was a necessity, absolutely,” Thurber said. “The plan was to use the treated wastewater from the plant to irrigate the park, and not have to rely heavily on the aquifer to do that for us. The big thing here is reuse, and they threw that away.”
Without irrigation to Blue Hole, the city’s goals are not being achieved, Thurber said.
Some residents are also concerned about Aqua Texas and issues the company has had with wastewater spills in the past.
In 2012, the Hays Free Press reported that more than 100,000 gallons of sewage spilled into Plum Creek from Kyle’s wastewater treatment plant, which at the time was co-owned by Aqua Texas. In 2015, Kyle agreed to an out-of-court settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed against Aqua for failure to maintain the plant. In late 2016, Kyle took full control over its wastewater plant.
Thurber said Aqua Texas is not a right fit for the city.
“The mayor has indicated that she is trying to work with the original timeline, but I don’t know how that is possible, and all we can do is wait,” said Rebecca Minnick, a Wimberley resident. “I can tell you right now there are downtown businesses counting on the sewage being done on schedule.”